As an attorney, it is common knowledge that there are several precise and crucial steps to take after drafting a trust. Merely drafting, signing and notarizing a living trust is not enough to make it legal. There are several steps that need to take place before a client is fully protected. There is no way that the average person, with no legal knowledge or estate planning experience, would know what steps to take. This is why it is important to hire an attorney who will hold your hand through the entire process and not just take your money to draft the trust then throw you to the wolves. The following is a story from my personal life, not my professional.
Growing up, I was very close with my grandmother. As she got older, it was me who took on the responsibility of helping to take care of her. When she learned that I was going to law school, she could not have been prouder. During my first year in law school, my grandmother decided that she was going to finally have her living trust created and asked if I would go with her to meet with the attorney. Of course I agreed to help.
After arriving over 30 minutes late to the appointment (his receptionist informed us that he was still at breakfast), the attorney sat down and asked a series of questions pertaining to my grandmother’s family and assets. There was no explanation as to why he needed each piece of information. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes and the attorney informed us that it would be about 2 weeks before the document would be completed. Two weeks later, we received the call that the trust was ready to be signed. When we returned to the office, the paralegal sat down with us and had her sign the document then we were sent home. Being new to law school and not yet out into the practicing world, I did not know that this was far from normal!
Years later, when my grandmother passed away, I had the task of being the executor of the estate. When I went to the bank where my grandmother had all her money and presented the trust in order to be able to close out her accounts and distribute the money to her beneficiaries, I had a horrible surprise. The bank accounts had never been placed into the living trust and therefore the trust was invalid as to these particular assets. Now, I had to jump through several hurdles and go through the probate process to handle the estate.
Long story short, the attorney who drafted the living trust had not explained to us that there are several steps to take in order to make your trust valid and protect all your assets. Signing the document is not the end! After your trust is drafted and signed, you must take the completed document to the bank and have the name on your account changed into the name of the trust and have what is legally termed a ‘certificate of trust’ on file with the bank. Also, you must have a new deed drafted for your home and filed with the county before your home can be protected by the trust. These are just a few of the steps that may be required with any living trust.
If the appropriate steps are not taken to “fund” the trust after the document has been signed, the trust is not actually valid. If the trust is not legally funded and valid, the family or heirs you leave behind must go through the probate process in order to handle your affairs. This entirely eliminates the point of creating the trust in the first place.
Now that I am a practicing attorney working in the field of estate planning, I have a personal understanding of the importance of holding clients’ hands. Not only do I take my time to explain the reason for every question that I ask a client, but I also help them with what comes after the signing. It is important to explain to clients the next steps to take in order to fund their trust. With every client, I explain the steps of funding their new trust and personally help them complete each step until the process is done.
Once you have made the decision to create your living trust and are working with an attorney to complete the process, accept nothing less than this level of personal attention; you deserve it!