If you're new to estate planning and probate, you have probably heard of a dizzying array of trusts available for a wide variety of purposes. Some are intended to allow assets to pass to beneficiaries without probate, and to provide certain tax advantages. Others can be set up to protect children or dependent adults with special needs, or to avoid having to draw down all of a couple's assets when one of them has expensive medical needs.
When trusts are thoughtfully designed and managed well, they can achieve important goals and provide many advantages. When they are not, trust disputes between trustees and beneficiaries or between those depending on the trust and the IRS, state taxing authorities and even federal agencies such as Medicaid.
In this two-part post, we will give a simple description of the purpose of some trusts and their main purposes. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice; you should discuss your individual situation with an estate planning lawyer or financial advisor before making any decisions.
To begin, think of a trust as an agreement with three parties. The person who created and funded the trust is called a "settlor" in California, but you may also hear the terms "grantor" or "trustor." The second party is the beneficiary or beneficiaries of the trust. The third party is the trustee.