If you are the trustee of a living trust, you are responsible for managing the trust property and can change title to the property as necessary. The steps required to change title depend on the type of property involved. If you are named successor trustee and the trustee has died or is no longer able to carry out his duties, title to the trust property must be changed from the trustee's name to your name as successor trustee.
Living Trust Document
Changing title to property in a living trust requires understanding the document that was used to create the trust, called a declaration of trust or trust agreement. The document is typically prepared by a lawyer and signed by the person creating the living trust, referred to as the trustor or settlor. In most cases, the trustor is also named as trustee and is responsible for funding the trust by transferring property from the trustor's name into the living trust. For example, property held in the trustor's own name -- John Smith – would be changed to "John Smith, trustee of the Smith Family Trust." The trust document also names the successor trustee.
Real Estate Title Change
Property held in a living trust usually includes a family residence and other real estate. Changing title to real estate may be necessary if it is sold or when the trustor, who is also the trustee, passes away. The title change is accomplished in the same manner as all real estate title changes – by preparing the appropriate document and recording it with the local government recording office. For example, real estate sold in Texas requires the use of a warranty deed, which is filed with the county clerk's office. In California, the passing of the trustee requires that title to real estate be transferred from the trustee's name to the successor trustee's name using an "Affidavit of Death of Trustee," which is recorded with the County Recorder's office.
Personal Property Title Change
Personal property held in a living trust commonly includes accounts with financial institutions for checking and savings, stocks, mutual funds or retirement funds. Although title to such property is in the name of the trustee, the property is in the possession of a custodian, such as a bank or credit union. Changing title to this property requires providing the custodian with a "certification of trust" as proof that the person requesting the title change has the authority to do so. Each state has its own trust law that specifies the information that must be included in a properly constructed certification. Most financial institutions prepare a form of certification for use by their clientèle that complies with state law.
Miscellaneous Personal Property
A trust document usually includes a general statement that the trustor places all his miscellaneous property, such as personal effects, household furniture and furnishings, into his living trust. This type of property usually does not have any title documents associated with it, and it is not held by a custodian but kept by the trustor at his residence or otherwise under his control. The trustor has the right to manage this property as he sees fit. The successor trustee acquires title to this property when the trustor dies.
References & Resources
- American Bar Association: Living Trusts
- LoneStarLand.com: Deeds in Texas
- Harris County Clerk's Office: Real Property – Real Estate Information
- Sacramento County Law Library: Affidavit of Death of Trustee
- Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk: Property Document Recording
- Toews & Murphy, Inc.: Settling the Revocable Trust in California
- Pinnacle Capital Mortgage Corporation: Certification of Trust