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A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding How Family Trusts Work

Young parents with a baby standing in nature. How family trusts work is to benefit future generations.

A family trust involves transferring assets to a trustee who manages them for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries. Family trusts can be a useful tool for managing and protecting assets for future generations. This guide provides a beginner-friendly explanation of how family trusts work, including their purpose, benefits, and the steps involved in setting one up. Whether you’re considering establishing a family trust or simply want to understand how they function, this guide is a great starting point.

What is a family trust?

A family trust involves transferring assets to a trustee who manages them for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries. The trustee can be an individual or a professional entity, such as a bank or a trust company. The purpose of a family trust is to protect and manage assets, provide for the financial needs of family members, and ensure the smooth transfer of wealth to future generations. Unlike a will, a family trust allows for the avoidance of probate, which can be time-consuming and costly. Additionally, a family trust offers privacy, as it does not become part of the public record like a will does. Overall, a family trust provides flexibility and control over the distribution of assets, making it a popular choice for estate planning.

How family trusts work?

A family trust works by transferring assets to a trustee, who then manages those assets for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries. The trustee has a legal obligation to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and follow the instructions outlined in the trust document. The trust document specifies how the assets should be managed, distributed, and used for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The trustee has the authority to make decisions regarding investments, property management, and distributions to beneficiaries. The beneficiaries, on the other hand, have the right to receive income or principal from the trust according to the terms of the trust. The trust can be set up to provide for specific needs, such as education or healthcare expenses, or it can be more general in nature. Overall, a family trust allows for the efficient management and distribution of assets while providing flexibility and control for the grantor and beneficiaries.

What are the benefits of a family trust?

There are several benefits to setting up a family trust. Firstly, a family trust can help protect your assets and ensure they are distributed according to your wishes. By transferring assets to a trust, you can shield them from potential creditors or legal claims. Additionally, a family trust can help minimize estate taxes and probate costs, allowing for a smoother transfer of wealth to future generations. Another benefit is the flexibility and control it provides. As the grantor, you can specify how the assets should be managed and distributed, ensuring that your beneficiaries are taken care of in the way you desire. Furthermore, a family trust can provide privacy, as the details of the trust and its beneficiaries are not made public like they would be in a will. Overall, a family trust offers a range of advantages for those looking to protect and manage their assets for the benefit of their loved ones.

How to set up a family trust.

Setting up a family trust may seem like a daunting task, but with the right guidance, it can be a straightforward process. Here are the basic steps to help you get started:

1. Determine your goals: Before setting up a family trust, it’s important to clarify your objectives. Consider what assets you want to include in the trust, who the beneficiaries will be, and how you want the assets to be managed and distributed.

2. Choose a trustee: The trustee is responsible for managing the trust and carrying out your wishes. You can appoint yourself, a family member, or a professional trustee. Make sure to choose someone you trust and who has the necessary knowledge and expertise.

3. Draft the trust document: Work with an attorney experienced in estate planning to draft the trust document. This legal document will outline the terms and conditions of the trust, including how the assets will be distributed and any specific instructions you have.

4. Transfer assets to the trust: Once the trust is established, you will need to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust. This may involve changing titles, deeds, or beneficiary designations. Consult with professionals, such as an attorney or financial advisor, to ensure the proper transfer of assets.

5. Fund the trust: To make the trust effective, you need to fund it with assets. This can include real estate, investments, bank accounts, and other valuable possessions. By transferring assets to the trust, you are ensuring they are protected and managed according to your wishes.

6. Review and update regularly: It’s important to review and update your family trust regularly to ensure it aligns with your current circumstances and goals. Life events such as births, deaths, marriages, or divorces may require adjustments to the trust.

Remember, setting up a family trust is a complex legal process, and it’s crucial to seek professional advice from an attorney specializing in estate planning. They can guide you through the process and help you create a trust that meets your specific needs and objectives.

Common misconceptions about how family trusts work.

There are several common misconceptions about family trusts that can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. One misconception is that family trusts are only for the wealthy. While it is true that family trusts can be beneficial for high-net-worth individuals, they can also be useful for individuals with more modest assets. Family trusts can help protect assets, provide for the needs of beneficiaries, and ensure the smooth transfer of wealth.

Another misconception is that family trusts are only for older individuals or those nearing retirement. In reality, family trusts can be established at any age and at any stage of life. They can be a valuable tool for individuals who want to plan for the future, protect their assets, and provide for their loved ones.

Some people also believe that family trusts are complicated and expensive to set up. While there are legal and administrative aspects to consider, working with an experienced attorney can help simplify the process and ensure that everything is done correctly. The cost of setting up a family trust can vary depending on individual circumstances, but it is important to consider the long-term benefits and protections that a trust can provide.

It is important to dispel these misconceptions and understand the potential benefits of a family trust. Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney can help address any concerns or questions and guide you through the process of setting up a trust that meets your specific needs and goals.

Conclusion: How Family Trusts Work.

Family trusts are versatile tools that can offer asset protection, facilitate estate planning, aid in tax efficiency, and provide a mechanism for succession planning. However, setting up and managing a family trust is not a trivial task. It involves an understanding of complex legal concepts and potential tax implications. Therefore, it’s advisable to seek legal and financial advice when considering a family trust as part of your wealth management strategy. Through careful planning and professional guidance, a family trust can serve as a robust vehicle for safeguarding your family’s future.

Have More Questions? Give Us A Call.

Understanding the intricacies of how family trusts work and employing them to secure your family’s financial future is a complex task best left to professionals. At our law firm, we provide the expertise and support needed to navigate these legal constructs effectively. Whether you need advice on setting up a trust, managing it, or understanding its potential tax implications, our experienced legal team is here to guide you every step of the way. Call us today at 602-443-4888 to explore how we can help you create a solid, future-proof strategy for your wealth and provide a secure, prosperous future for your loved ones.


Founding attorney Paul Deloughery has been an attorney since 1998, became a Certified Family Wealth Advisor. He is also the founder of Sudden Wealth Protection Law.