top of page

What Is a Trust? A Detailed Look Inside How to Protect Your Assets for the Future

Trusts serve as powerful tools within estate planning, providing many benefits that cater to specific needs and goals. But what is a trust exactly, and how does it work? What is a trust fund? What is a trust account? 

Understanding the function of trusts, what type of trust is best for different situations, the

process of setting one up, and the associated advantages is important to making informed estate planning decisions. At Woodbury & Ybarra, we recognize the significance of trusts in securing one’s legacy and are dedicated to providing professional guidance through that legal process.

signing a trust to protect assets

How Does a Trust Work?

A trust operates as a sophisticated legal arrangement designed to manage and distribute assets for the benefit of specified individuals or entities and may set up a trust fund or a trust account to accomplish these purposes. At its core, a trust involves three primary parties: the grantor, the trustee, and the beneficiaries. Understanding how these elements interact provides insight into how a trust functions.

  1. The grantor initiates the trust by transferring assets—such as property, investments, or cash—into the trust's ownership. This individual creates the trust document, outlining the terms, conditions, and instructions that govern how the trust operates. The grantor's intentions, goals, and desires for the management and distribution of these assets guide the trust's framework.

  1. The trustee assumes the responsibility of managing the trust in accordance with the directives laid out in the trust document. This individual or entity holds legal ownership of the trust's assets but must manage them for the benefit of the specified beneficiaries. Trustees operate under a fiduciary duty, meaning they must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and adhere strictly to the terms of the trust. Their duties encompass prudent asset management, record-keeping, and ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

  1. The beneficiaries are the individuals or entities designated to benefit from the trust. They may receive income generated by the trust's assets, inherit the assets outright at a specified time, or have the assets managed for their benefit over an extended period. Beneficiaries can include family members, charitable organizations, or even pets, depending on the grantor's instructions.

Trust Fund vs. Trust Account

So what is a trust fund, and what is a trust account? A trust fund refers to the specialized financial entity established through a trust, where the assets are placed for the benefit of beneficiaries after the trust is created. It operates under the framework of the trust agreement, a grantor transferring assets into the trust fund which is then managed and administered by a trustee. 

A trust account acts as the repository for funds and assets transferred into the trust, maintaining a separate and distinct identity from the trustee's personal or business accounts. This account serves as the central hub for financial transactions related to the trust, including deposits, investments, disbursements to beneficiaries, and other administrative functions outlined in the trust agreement. 

Ultimately, a trust operates as a legal entity separate from the grantor or trustee, facilitating the management and distribution of assets according to the grantor's wishes. This arrangement allows for flexibility in managing assets during the grantor's lifetime and posthumously, bypassing probate in many cases, and offering privacy and control over asset distribution. The interplay between the grantor, trustee, and beneficiaries ensures that trusts can be tailored to meet diverse objectives, from asset protection and tax minimization to philanthropic endeavors and generational wealth management.

Type of Trusts

wills trust and probate attorney

Trusts come in various forms, each tailored to serve distinct purposes within estate planning and asset management. Understanding the different types of trusts provides insight into their functionalities and advantages, allowing individuals to select the most suitable option based on their specific goals. One of the most important distinctions to make is to recognize the differences between Revocable and Irrevocable trusts. 

  • Revocable Living Trusts: These trusts offer flexibility during the grantor's lifetime. The grantor retains control over assets placed into the trust and can make amendments or revoke the trust entirely if desired. They are commonly used to avoid probate, ensuring a smooth transfer of assets to beneficiaries after the grantor's passing.

  • Irrevocable Trusts: Once established, these trusts cannot be altered or revoked by the grantor. Irrevocable trusts offer asset protection and potential tax benefits. Assets transferred into this trust are typically removed from the grantor's estate, potentially reducing estate taxes. Certain irrevocable trusts, like charitable trusts, serve philanthropic purposes while providing tax advantages.

Once this distinction is made, there are many different options that can be employed in the creation of a trust. Some of those are as follows:

  • Special Needs Trusts: Designed to benefit individuals with disabilities, these trusts provide financial support without jeopardizing the beneficiary's eligibility for government assistance programs. They can cover various needs, including medical care, housing, and other essential expenses, ensuring continued support for the beneficiary's well-being.

  • Charitable Trusts:  In this trust, assets are dedicated to benefiting charitable organizations or causes, providing financial support for initiatives such as education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, scientific research, or cultural endeavors. The grantor designates these assets for charitable purposes, outlining specific instructions within the trust document on how the funds are to be distributed or utilized for the benefit of the chosen charities. Charitable trusts often offer tax benefits to the grantor or the estate

  • Generation-Skipping Trusts: An estate planning tool designed to transfer assets to beneficiaries who are at least two generations junior to the grantor, typically grandchildren or great-grandchildren. This trust allows assets to bypass the grantor's children, thereby "skipping" a generation. The primary objective of a GST is to minimize estate taxes and preserve wealth for future generations by avoiding taxation at each subsequent transfer.

Each type of trust serves unique objectives, offering different levels of control, protection, and tax advantages. Determining the most appropriate trust type involves considering individual circumstances, asset portfolios, and specific intentions for asset management and distribution. Seeking guidance from experienced legal professionals is crucial to ensure the chosen trust aligns with your goals and complies with legal requirements.

How to Set up a Trust

Setting up a trust involves several crucial steps and requires careful consideration to align the trust with the grantor's intentions and legal requirements. The process entails meticulous planning and execution, often guided by legal professionals specializing in estate planning, such as Woodbury & Ybarra.

  • Determine Trust Objectives: The initial step in setting up a trust involves defining the purpose and objectives of the trust. Whether it's asset management, providing for beneficiaries, or charitable giving, clarifying these intentions lays the groundwork for the trust's structure.

  • Select Trust Type: Based on the objectives, choose the appropriate type of trust that best suits the desired outcomes. Consider factors such as control over assets, tax implications, and the specific needs of beneficiaries. Options include revocable or irrevocable trusts, charitable trusts, or special needs trusts.

  • Identify Trustees and Beneficiaries: Appoint trustworthy individuals or entities as trustees responsible for managing the trust in accordance with the trust document. Designate beneficiaries who will benefit from the trust assets, specifying their roles and entitlements.

  • Draft the Trust Document: With the assistance of legal counsel, craft a comprehensive trust document that outlines the trust's terms, conditions, and instructions. This document specifies asset details, trustee powers, distribution guidelines, and any contingencies or provisions.

  • Execute and Formalize: Once the trust document is drafted, the grantor(s) sign the document in the presence of witnesses and a notary. This formalizes the trust's establishment, making it legally binding.

  • Fund the Trust: Transfer assets into the trust by re-titling ownership to the trust's name. This may involve deeds for real estate, changing account registrations, or assigning investments to the trust. Properly funding the trust is critical to ensure its functionality.

  • Seek Ongoing Guidance: Regularly review and update the trust as circumstances change, ensuring it remains aligned with evolving goals and legal requirements.

Setting up a trust demands attention to detail and adherence to legal nuances. Consulting with experienced estate planning attorneys ensures that the trust is structured appropriately, offering peace of mind that the assets will be managed and distributed according to the grantor's intentions.

Benefits of Setting Up a Trust

Establishing a trust offers an array of benefits, making it a valuable tool within comprehensive estate planning strategies. These benefits extend beyond mere asset management, providing advantages in terms of privacy, control, and efficient distribution of wealth to beneficiaries.

protect your assets with a trust
  • Avoiding Probate: One of the foremost advantages of a trust is bypassing the probate process. Unlike wills, trusts facilitate the transfer of assets to beneficiaries without the need for court intervention, ensuring a faster and more private distribution. This bypassing of probate can save time, reduce costs, and prevent the public disclosure of estate details.

  • Control and Flexibility: Trusts offer a higher degree of control and customization compared to other estate planning tools. Grantors can specify how assets are managed and distributed, setting conditions and timelines for distributions to beneficiaries. Trusts enable tailored solutions to accommodate diverse family dynamics, ensuring assets are managed in line with the grantor's wishes.

  • Asset Protection: Certain types of trusts, like irrevocable trusts, provide asset protection by removing assets from the grantor's estate. This shielding of assets can safeguard them from creditors, lawsuits, or other legal claims, preserving wealth for intended beneficiaries.

  • Tax Efficiency: Trusts can offer tax benefits, reducing potential tax liabilities for both the grantor and beneficiaries. Irrevocable trusts, for instance, can help minimize estate taxes by removing assets from the taxable estate. Additionally, certain trusts may offer income tax advantages, optimizing asset management for tax efficiency.

  • Continuity of Asset Management: Trusts ensure a seamless transition of asset management in case the grantor becomes incapacitated or passes away. By appointing trustees and outlining instructions in the trust document, asset management continues without disruption, ensuring the welfare of beneficiaries.

The multifaceted benefits of setting up a trust make it a powerful instrument in preserving wealth, ensuring privacy, and providing tailored solutions for the efficient distribution of assets according to the grantor's wishes. Consulting with experienced estate planning professionals is crucial in leveraging these benefits and crafting a trust aligned with individual goals and circumstances.

Protect Your Assets for the Future

A trust is a powerful estate planning tool that offers flexibility, control, and protection for your assets and the interests of your beneficiaries. Whether you’re considering a trust for asset management, succession planning, or charitable purposes, the guidance of experienced legal professionals like Woodbury & Ybarra to ensure your trust is structured to meet your specific needs. See how we can help you with a trust today!

Woodbury and Ybarra Trust and Estate Lawyers
Mark Woodbury and Daniel Ybarra, partner attorneys at Woodbury &Ybarra


bottom of page