Not everyone wants to leave everything to their heirs without restrictions. Some want to protect money inherited from their own parents for their children or want to keep an irresponsible child from squandering an inheritance. For people who want more control over their assets, a testamentary trust might be useful, according to the recent article “What Is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One? from U.S. News & World Report. A testamentary trust can also be used to leave assets to minor children, who may not legally inherit wealth directly.
However, your estate planning attorney may have some other, better tools for you.
A testamentary trust is a trust created to hold assets created in a last will and testament. It does not become active until after a person dies and the will has been validated by probate court. Once this has happened, the trust is activated and the decedent’s assets are placed into the trust. At this point, the trustee is in charge of the trust’s management and asset distribution.
A testamentary trust is different from a living trust. The living trust, also known as a revocable trust, is created while the grantor (the person making the trust) is still living. When the person dies, the trust doesn’t go through probate and assets are distributed according to the directions in the trust.
Both testamentary and living or revocable trusts are used in estate planning. However, the living trust may have far more flexibility and be easier to manage for a very simple reason: testamentary trusts are part of the probate process, administered through probate for as long as they are in effect.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds of trusts. The testamentary trust is often used to manage assets for minor children. It’s also a good tool if you’re worried about an adult child getting divorced and keeping the family money in the family. The long-term court oversight is more protective, which may be desirable, but it can also be more expensive.
The best reason for a testamentary estate? When someone involved in the person’s estate loves to get tangled up in litigation. Having to deal with probate court in addition to civil court might make a litigious family member a little less likely to bring a lawsuit.
Your will must contain specific directions for what assets go into the testamentary trust. Assets with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, don’t go into any trusts, unless a trust is designated as the beneficiary of the policy or account. They are instead distributed directly to beneficiaries outside of the probate estate.
Changing or annulling a testamentary trust is relatively easy while you are living—simply update your will to reflect your new wishes. However, once you have passed, the testamentary trust becomes irrevocable and may not be changed.
Which is best for your situation? Your estate planning attorney will evaluate these and other estate planning tools to find the best solutions to protect you and your family.
Reference: U.S. News & World Report (July 14, 2022) “What Is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?