Trusts are estate-planning tools that can replace or supplement wills, as well as help manage property during life. A trust manages the distribution of a person’s property by transferring its benefits and obligations to different people. There are many reasons to create a trust, making this property distribution technique a popular choice for many people when creating an estate plan.
The basics of trust creation are fairly simple. To create a trust, the property owner (called the “trustor,” “grantor,” or “settlor”) transfers legal ownership to a person or institution (called the “trustee”) to manage that property for the benefit of another person (called the “beneficiary”). The trustee often receives compensation for his or her management role. Trusts create a “fiduciary” relationship running from the trustee to the beneficiary, meaning that the trustee must act solely in the best interests of the beneficiary when dealing with the trust property. If a trustee does not live up to this duty, then the trustee is legally accountable to the beneficiary for any damage to his or her interests. The grantor may act as the trustee himself or herself, and retain ownership instead of transferring the property, but he or she still must act in a fiduciary capacity. A grantor may also name himself or herself as one of the beneficiaries of the trust. In any trust arrangement, however, the trust cannot become effective until the grantor transfers the property to the trustee.
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