Robin Williams’ untimely death came as a shock to the world this past August. As devastating as an unexpected, sudden death can be for the family, the need to settle the estate only adds to the stress of an already overwhelming situation. However, having an estate plan in place reduces the uncertainty and unknowns for the grieving family members, since the deceased person has already documented his wishes in a will or trust. Various deadlines mandated by the estate plan, the state, or the federal government necessitate the timely administration of the estate. Robin Williams had multiple trusts, at least one of which owned his real estate. A trust is a particularly useful estate planning tool when you own real estate in multiple states.
If an individual dies owning real estate in his name alone in more than one state, a probate proceeding is necessary in each state where real property is owned. This could mean ancillary probates in multiple states, in addition to a probate proceeding in the state where the decedent was domiciled. To avoid this, a revocable living trust can be set up to hold title to the real estate. Titling real property in the name of the trust eliminates the need for probate proceedings in multiple states since the assets titled in the trust avoid probate. This simplifies the estate administration process.
Another type of trust specifically holds the grantor(s), or trust creator(s), principal residence. This type of trust has stringent requirements. First, it must be irrevocable. The grantor only has a right to live in the residence for a specified term. If, after the term expires, the grantor wants to continue to live in the property, he can remain in the residence if he pays rent. A benefit of this type of trust is that if the grantor survives that term, the principal residence is excluded from his taxable estate. If structured properly, this type of trust can reduce estate taxes by removing the value of the primary residence from the estate. For Robin Williams’ family, this could result in significant estate tax savings when he had real estate with equity of around $25 Million Dollars.
While trusts may be used in your estate plan to avoid probate, an added benefit is the ability to keep your affairs private. Many families want to pass assets to children, grandchildren, or other beneficiaries who should not receive an inheritance outright, either because of a proven inability to manage finances, drug or alcohol problems, or creditor issues. Robin Williams’ children were beneficiaries of a trust that staggered their distributions at particular ages. A trust allows you to establish these conditions and keep the terms private, whereas a will that is probated becomes public record. Anyone can walk into the Register of Wills, the probate court in Maryland, and demand a copy of the deceased person’s will. A trust allows you to shield the terms of your estate and the distributions from the public, which may be particularly important when money is to be transferred under more restrictive conditions, or your estate is sizeable, as is the case with Robin Williams.
An estate planning attorney can help you structure a plan that accomplishes your goals and is tailored to your beneficiaries’ needs.
To review “Trust Administration and Probate Frequently Asked Questions” go to: https://www.sinclairprosserlaw.com/services/trust-administration-probate/trust-administration-probate-frequently-asked-questions/
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