I write frequently on my blog about the importance of having a top-notch estate plan, but just as important as having an estate plan is maintaining your estate plan. Once we’ve worked to create the perfect trust to protect your family, you’ll need to re-title any assets you’d like to be protected into name of your trust. This is called Funding. Funding a trust is not difficult at all, but when you don’t know where to start it can seem daunting. The result is that even the best of us may be tempted to procrastinate, sometimes to the point of negligence.
Here are a few tips to get you started on the process. Each trust will be different, but the following suggestions are a foundation to begin funding just about every revocable trust:
Bank Accounts: For this you will need your Certification of Trust. This is the document your bank will require to put your account(s) in the name of your trust. With this document it’s a quick matter to stop by the bank some afternoon and ask them to make your trust the owner of your accounts. NOTE: You should NOT be required to change the name on your checks or bank cards!
Real Property: Check your records to make sure your home is in the name of your trust. Even if you know you transferred your home into your revocable trust, refinancing will often result in your home being taken out of it. If your home is not owned by the trust, contact your attorney to have it put back in.
Stocks and Investments: Contact your broker, financial advisor, or transfer agent to change the title of the investment accounts to the name of the trust. For stocks owned outside of an investment account, ask for the certificate to be re-issued in the name of your trust.
Personal Property: Tangible personal property such as antiques or artwork often cannot be titled in the name of a trust. But you can tell your attorney you’d like to sign an Assignment of Personal Property, sometimes called a Comprehensive Transfer Document. This states your intention to hold all of your tangible property in the name of, and for the benefit of, your revocable trust.
Don’t let your trust turn into an empty shell. The funding process is much easier than you think. Once you get started you’ll gather momentum quickly. The coordination of retirement accounts with trusts, such as IRAs or 401(k)s, is a very complex issue, and should not be attempted without the help of a lawyer due to the possible inadvertent tax consequences and penalties. A full discussion of this type of account is beyond the scope of this article.