How to Set Up a Joint Revocable Trust

By Brette Sember, J.D.

How to Set Up a Joint Revocable Trust

By Brette Sember, J.D.

A joint revocable trust can be an excellent estate planning option for you and another individual, such as a spouse. A trust takes ownership of your assets during your lifetime, and you and your spouse become the cograntors of the trust. You must name a trustee to manage the trust during your lifetime and distribute its assets after your deaths. You can choose anyone you like to be a trustee, but it is wise to also name an alternate trustee in case your first choice is unable to perform the duties. Each state has its own requirements to follow, so be sure to understand your state laws when setting up a trust.

Couple looking at laptop at desk

Benefits of a Joint Revocable Trust

A joint revocable trust allows you and your cograntor to pass your property to your beneficiaries without using a will. This means there is no probate proceeding and none of the costs and delays associated with probate. Note that while a revocable trust can help you avoid probate costs, in most instances it will not help you avoid estate tax. The assets can pass immediately when you die or you can choose a future date or event for distribution, such as a beneficiary's college graduation, thus providing a good deal of flexibility.

Because the trust is revocable, you can dissolve the trust at any point, and you can also add and remove items from the trust as you wish. Setting up the trust as a joint trust can make it easier to manage than setting up two separate trusts. A trust also guarantees you and your family privacy: probate court records are public, while trust agreements are not, meaning no one will know what assets you have or who you transfer them to.

Setting Up Your Trust

Use the following steps to create a joint revocable trust:

  1. Research your state's laws. Check with an attorney or research the law about joint revocable trusts in your state. You should know whether your state is a community property state and how that may impact the creation of the trust.
  2. Decide who your beneficiaries will be. Most people choose their children and grandchildren, but you can also choose friends, distant relatives, pets, or charities. You should also decide what each of them will inherit and when you would like the distribution to happen—at your death or at some other time or times in the future.
  3. Choose a trustee. The trustee manages the trust during your lifetime and has the responsibility of distributing the trust assets after your death. You and your cograntor can serve as trustee or trustees during your lifetimes, but you need an alternate trustee who can step in after your death. You can also choose a company that specializes in acting as a trustee.
  4. Draft your joint revocable trust agreement. Due so according to the laws of your state, either by researching or, preferably, with the assistance of an attorney or online service provider. The trust must name yourself and your cograntor, your trustee, and your beneficiaries. Important trust provisions to include are how and when the assets will be distributed, agreements on how the property can be transferred between yourself and your cograntor, the rights and duties of the trustee, and how and when assets will be distributed to the beneficiaries.
  5. Execute the trust. This is done by you and your cograntor signing the document in front of a notary public. Keep the trust agreement in a safe place.
  6. Transfer assets into the trust. The trust can only impact assets that are placed into it, so for the document to be effective, you must take this step, which can include changing the deed or title for real property or changing the name on bank accounts to that of the trust.

A joint revocable trust can be a valuable estate planning tool for you and your spouse. Be sure to follow the requirements of your state to ensure the trust is valid.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.