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Trusts

You can also leave property to your heirs using a trust. Trust property passes directly to the trust beneficiaries according to the trust terms. There are two basic types of trusts: (1) living or revocable, and (2) irrevocable.

Living trusts are very flexible because you can change the terms of the trust (e.g., rename beneficiaries) and the property in the trust at any time. You can even change your mind by taking your property back and ending the trust.

An irrevocable trust, on the other hand, can't be changed or ended except by its terms, but can be useful if you want to minimize estate taxes or protect your property from potential creditors.

You create a trust by executing a document called a trust agreement (you should have an attorney draft any type of trust to be sure it accomplishes what you want).

A trust can't distribute property it does not own, so you must also transfer ownership of your property to the name of the trust. Property without ownership documentation (e.g., jewelry, tools, furniture) are transferred to a trust by listing the items on a trust schedule. Property with ownership documents must be re-titled or re-registered.

You must also name a trustee to administer the trust and manage the trust property. With a living trust, you can name yourself trustee, but you'll need to name a successor trustee who'll transfer the property to your heirs after your death.

Tip: A living trust is also a good way to protect your property in case you become incapacitated.