If you’re putting together an estate plan, you have no doubt heard about the benefits of a living trust. Assets placed in a trust won’t go through probate, a time-consuming and potentially costly process. In addition, a living trust, also known as a revocable trust, allows you to designate a trustee to manage your estate after you’re gone—an important consideration if your heirs are minor children or adults who are unable to handle a large inheritance.
But although living trusts can streamline the disposition of your estate, there are plenty of opportunities to make costly missteps, particularly when it comes to transferring your assets to a trust.
What Not to Put in a Living Trust
Some types of accounts should never go into a trust, even if they account for the bulk of your estate. That category includes assets in your retirement accounts, such as your 401(k) plan, IRAs and tax-deferred annuities. Health savings accounts and the less-common medical savings accounts, which allow you to take tax-free withdrawals for medical expenses, should also be excluded from your trust.
If you transfer any of these accounts to your trust, the IRS will treat the transaction as a distribution and you’ll have to pay income taxes on the entire amount, says Kris Maksimovich, president of Global Wealth Advisors in Lewisville, Texas. Maksimovich says one of his clients recently transferred an IRA to a trust; fortunately, he was able to unwind the transaction before the distribution was taxed.
You can make your trust a beneficiary of your retirement accounts, which is what Maksimovich did for his client’s IRA. Naming your trust as a beneficiary allows you to determine how the assets will be distributed to your heirs and could also protect the funds from creditors. However, the 2019 Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which requires non-spouse beneficiaries to deplete inherited IRAs in 10 years, created some uncertainty with respect to how long a trustee has to deplete an IRA that’s left in a trust, so consult with an attorney before naming the trust as beneficiary.
Most other assets can be placed in a trust, but some should probably be excluded for practical reasons. For example, in order to transfer a vehicle to a trust, it must be retitled, which can trigger taxes and fees, depending on where you live. In addition, cars and other vehicles, such as boats and motorcycles, typically don’t go through probate, so you don’t need to transfer them to a trust.
Also, although most accounts with financial institutions belong in your trust, you should exclude accounts used to pay your monthly bills. Some entities, such as your …….