At Cummins & Bonestroo Law Office, we believe that an informed client creates a solid attorney-client relationship. Our full service law firm offers clients an in-depth understanding of the ramifications of their legal issues.
Our clients and their situations are unique and we would never offer a cookie-cutter approach to handling their cases. However, many of our clients find themselves looking for answers to some of their more basic questions. In order to accommodate our clients, our attorneys have written articles that explain legal topics geared toward answering our clients' questions.
If you are interested in learning more about particular topics in the practice areas we handle, please click on one of the following links for more information. We offer overviews of some of our more primary practice areas, such as wills and trusts, estate planning and family cabin planning. If you have further questions after reviewing this information, please feel free to contact us to set up an appointment so that we can discuss your situation in greater detail.
What is a trust?
A trust is a legal entity. A trust owns an asset that is held by one person, called the trustee, for the benefit of another person, called the beneficiary. The person establishing the trust is called the grantor. The grantor chooses whom he or she wants to be the trustee. The trustee should be someone the grantor believes will carry out the purpose of the trust faithfully. The trustee cannot also be a beneficiary of the trust.
A trust can be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust can be changed or terminated by the grantor at any time, for any reason. An irrevocable trust, however, cannot be changed or terminated for any reason by the grantor at any time.
A trust also can be a living trust or a testamentary trust. A living trust, also known as an inter vivos trust, is created while you are alive and is not part of the probate estate, thus helping you avoid probate and the costs associated with it. A testamentary trust is created through a will, and as a consequence, generally must go through the probate process.
Do I need a will?
When you die without a will, you die intestate. If you die intestate, the laws in the state where you live at the time of your death control the distribution of your assets. If you have property in more than one state, the laws of the state where the property is located will determine distribution. The state may appoint a lawyer to oversee the distribution of your estate and that lawyer will be paid out of your estate's assets. The state may even claim your property if you have no apparent heirs. If you do have heirs, they may be forced to pay sizable taxes in order to keep any of your property. The state also will appoint a person they feel is a suitable guardian for any minor children you may have left behind.
Because you have not expressed your wishes, the state will substitute its own judgment regarding the distribution of assets to the following people:
- Your spouse: Most states provide a certain share of the estate to the surviving spouse. This amount is usually taken off the top before any claims by creditors and other heirs are paid. Many states also give the surviving spouse an interest in any real estate owned by the decedent.
- Your children: If you have children, they also will receive a portion of your estate. The amount can depend on whether your spouse was also their biological parent, whether you have children from a previous marriage, whether your spouse is deceased and other factors. If you do not have a will, minor children could end up with a large sum of money. In these situations, the court normally will appoint a guardian to manage the money until your children reach 18.
- Your parents and siblings: If you are unmarried and have no children, your estate will go to your parent(s) or, if they have both died, to your brothers and sisters. Similarly, if you are married but have no children, the portion of your estate remaining after your spouse receives his or her share will go to your parents, or if they have both died, to your brothers and sisters.