Trusts are special purpose financial vehicles that are designed to hold and safeguard assets for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries. The person who funds the trust is known as the grantor, and the trust acts as a separate legal entity that manages the assets which the grantor transfers. Trusts are widely used for estate planning, asset protection, financial privacy, and tax optimisation.
There are several varieties of trusts, each with their own unique features and use cases. Two of the most common and widely used types of trusts are that of a “Living Trust” and a “Land Trust”. In this article, we explain what each of these types of trusts are, and the benefits and uses of each.
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A living trust is simply defined as any trust which is created during a person’s lifetime (i.e., not after their death), and is, therefore, a term that encompasses several categories of trusts. Upon the formation of a living trust, a designated trustee is appointed to manage the trust’s assets until such time as they are passed to the trust’s beneficiaries.
Living trusts can theoretically be either revocable or irrevocable; however, by convention, the term “living trust” usually refers to a revocable trust. These are trusts which can be altered or terminated by the grantor after they have been established. They also do not have a separate tax ID and are thus considered a part of the grantor’s estate.
By contrast, an irrevocable trust cannot be altered by the grantor (i.e., the grantor cannot name themself as the trustee). While this results in a lack of flexibility and control, it leads to greater levels of asset protection and tax benefits, as the trust has a separate tax ID.
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A living trust allows you to designate part of your estate to beneficiaries of your choice while you are still alive. The trust survives after your death, at which point the assets in the trust will be transferred to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust.
The main benefit of a living trust is that it helps to avoid the usual probate procedures of a Will and Testimony.
There are lower taxes associated with inheriting assets from a trust than directly from the deceased’s estate.
Living trusts allow you to transfer part of your personal estate out of your own name, whilst still retaining control and use of the assets (in the case of a revocable living trust).
Whilst ordinary revocable living trusts do not provide the same level of asset protection as irrevocable trusts, they do create an added layer of privacy and security.
A land trust is actually a special type of living trust, but has gained enough popularity and widespread use to be considered its own distinct category of trust. The main defining feature of a land trust is that it can only be used to hold and manage real estate and/or other related assets.
So, put simply, land trusts are legal entities which take ownership and control over property, which is transferred to the trust by the landowner, to the ultimate benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries. Each land trust has its own unique terms which can be formed in accordance with the individual grantor’s needs. Land trusts are a type of revocable trust, meaning they can be altered or terminated by the grantor at any time.
There are many distinctive benefits of a land trust. The primary advantage is that land trusts are one type of trust which allows the property owner themself (the grantor) to also be the beneficiary. They also allow the grantor to maintain use and control over the property after it has legally been transferred to the trust. This means they continue to have the right to rent or sell the property which is held by the land trust, and the trust can be terminated or amended at any time. Other benefits of a land trust include:
Land trusts provide an excellent way to hold property anonymously. This is because the property is listed under the name of the trust on public records, and is not associated with the identity of the grantor. This is a good way to legally reduce your official net worth, leading to greater asset protection and lower risk of lawsuits, creditor claims, etc.
There are several types of land trusts, and most provide significant tax benefits in some form, whereby contributions to the trust can qualify for tax deductions.
Like other types of trusts, a land trust can allow the easy transfer of property to beneficiaries after the grantor’s death, without the need for expensive probate court, and with greatly reduced estate taxes. This is an important benefit given the high value and indivisible nature of real estate.
It is clear that an ordinary living trust and a land trust have distinctive features which make them useful in different situations. Both of these trusts generally refer to revocable trusts, which means they do share many characteristics, such as the ability to alter or terminate the trust after inception.
Living trusts are ideal all-purpose vehicles for safeguarding assets in a separate legal entity whilst maintaining sufficient flexibility and control. They are ideal estate planning vehicles that help in the avoidance of probate procedures and tax optimisation.
Land trusts fulfil many of the same functions, but they are specially designed for only real estate and related assets. They are therefore less versatile and all-encompassing but offer some unique features and benefits. These include the ability to maintain full control over the property even after it has been transferred to the trust and to name oneself as sole beneficiary of the trust. As a result, they provide an excellent way to own property anonymously.
With these points in mind, the optimal trust for you depends on your specific needs and circumstances. Even within these two categories of trust, the terms of each individual trust can be tailored to meet your unique requirements. Therefore, it is important to obtain expert guidance and support from a professional who can help you establish the perfect trust to suit your needs.
Without a customised legal strategy, you put yourself at risk.
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*Note for U.S. citizens: US citizens are limited in their tax reduction possibilities due to FATCA and CFC laws. Opening an offshore company can increase privacy and asset protection, but you can not eliminate your taxes without giving up your citizenship. If you are a US citizen you are obligated to pay taxes on all worldwide income. Read more here about FATCA and CFC laws.
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