Transferring Property from a Living Trust to a Successor Trustee

By Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

Transferring Property from a Living Trust to a Successor Trustee

By Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

A living trust, also called an inter vivos or revocable trust, originates by creating a trust agreement. During their lifetime, the grantor, or maker, of the trust may use both real and personal property belonging to the trust, while designating themselves as trustee. After the grantor's passing, the successor trustee assumes the trustee's duties and must transfer documents to themselves so they can legally transfer trust property to the beneficiaries.

Trust Agreement

The trust agreement, or declaration of trust, explains the parameters of the arrangement, including who the beneficiaries are, what property they get, the name of the successor trustee or trustees, and what the successor trustee's duties are.

The successor trustee administers or settles the trust by following the instructions in the trust agreement. They can consult and hire attorneys, financial companies, or both, to help administer the trust.

Transferring Real Property

Administering the trust, also known as managing or settling the trust, requires that the successor trustee undertake tasks to make sure the trust does what the grantor wished. If you're the successor trustee, you must obtain certified copies of the death certificate and prepare an affidavit of death of a trustee, affidavit of duties, or other similarly named document to prove you're the successor trustee. The affidavit, along with certified copies of the death certificate, allows you access to the trust's property.

To transfer real property into your name as successor trustee, file the affidavit of death of trustee with the recorder or registry of deeds in the county in which the property is located. Many counties and states require you to fill out additional forms, which the recorder's or clerk's office usually has, but you may want to consult an estate attorney to ensure you've filled out everything that is required.

The original deed named the trust and included the name of the trustee. You must transfer the deed into your name now, using the words "as trustee," followed by the name of the trust and the date you transferred it. Repeat this step for all real property in the trustee's name. You also need to file tax forms so that the beneficiaries won't get stuck with increased property taxes. Check with an attorney for the appropriate tax forms.

Transferring Personal Property

Gather the documents in the trust, such as insurance policies, the will, retirement accounts, bank and checking accounts, bonds, stocks, and titled personal property, such as a car. Next, prepare an inventory of the documents you gathered. Notify insurance companies and retirement accounts that the grantor has passed, then apply for proceeds and death benefits from the policies.

To transfer accounts to yourself as a successor trustee, you need to present your affidavit and the certified death certificate and fill out the appropriate forms, which are usually called certificates of trust, certification of trust, or something similar. These certificates, which keep the contents of the trust private, are merely summaries of the trust, including the name, the date the grantor made the trust, and other minimal information, so you don't have to provide the trust agreement to the bank or other financial institution.

Sometimes the institutions, such as banks or brokerage firms, require you to close out the accounts and reopen them in your name as trustee by filling out their own certificate forms. For anything more complicated, it's a good idea to use an accountant, financial adviser, or attorney to help you complete the transfers.

Untitled Personal Property

As a successor trustee, you need to protect whatever property is in the trust, including untitled personal property. You also need to have these personal items appraised as of the date of death. An accountant or financial adviser can assist with this.

Notify beneficiaries of the grantor's passing and of their status as beneficiaries. You don't need to take title to the personal property, as there is no title. Before you distribute this property in accordance with the trust, check with an accountant or attorney to ensure that you can do so rather than sell the personal property to pay any outstanding debts and taxes.

After you've distributed the real and personal property, close the trust. If, at any point, you have questions about how to manage the process, consult an estate attorney or trust company so you can have peace of mind that you followed the grantor's wishes.

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