A trust creates a special relationship between people and property that the trust owns. The person who created the trust, called the trustor, transfers ownership of his or her property to the trust as the new owner. Trustors are also sometimes referred to as settlors and trust makers. The trustor also states who shall receive the benefit of that property, a person known as a beneficiary, and who shall manage the property for the trust, known as the trustee. But can a trustor also be a beneficiary or a trustee? Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios.
The trustor is the trustee. In some trust situations, it’s common for the trustor to serve as trustee. Trustors of revocable living trusts often serve in this position without problems. However, the trustor of an irrevocable trust faces significant problems when serving as a trustee. The benefits conferred by an irrevocable trust may be lost when the trustor serves as the trustee, so talk to a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney if you’re considering this option.
The trustee is the beneficiary. When the trustee both manages the property and receives the benefit of it, what exactly is the difference between this and owning the property outright? A beneficiary serving as trustee may run afoul of the tax protections offered by a trust, and some states do not allow a sole-beneficiary to serve as trustee. However, using a co-trustee may allow the beneficiary to also serve as co-trustee to help maintain the tax protections. In addition, certain beneficiary protections such as protections from creditors may be lost when a beneficiary is the trustee over their own assets.
The selection of trustees is just one of the many potentially complex issues that need to be carefully navigated when creating an estate plan. Many do-it-your-selfers and others who are lured by the low cost of Internet or form book estate planning documents find out the hard (and expensive) way that what they thought was simple turned out to be anything but. The best way to avoid problems from the start is to work with an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney.