To navigate around and through some of the disadvantages to basic estate planning I talked about previously and to provide a client and his or her family with more protection, estate planners typically use intermediate tools and techniques.
The most basic intermediate tool is a trust, but before getting too far ahead, let me point out the difference between a land trust and a living trust. Illinois is one of a handful of states that allows a party to place primary residential property in a land trust. An Illinois Land Trust is an agreement entered into by the owner of a property and an institutional trustee. The trustee becomes the legal and equitable owner of the property and the former owner, becomes the owner of a beneficial interest in the property. The property essence also changes from real property to personal property for the sake of this agreement, which means the property is easier to dispose of.
So, if a person is aging and has relatively few assets, say less than $50,000, a land trust may be a viable option for avoiding probate.
However, if the person has other significant assets or is younger and will be accumulating more assets, it is probably more advisable for that person to gift the property to their spouse or other beneficiaries using a revocable living trust. The reason for this is that a land trust can only hold primary residential property; while a revocable living trust can hold almost anything that is allocated to it. Therefore, if a person owns a home, has retirement proceeds, and investment accounts, those can be assembled under one umbrella revocable living trust, but not so for a land trust.
Often, the creator (aka “grantor” or “settlor”) of the trust is also the trustee and trust beneficiary and can, like a land trust, make changes to the trust during his or her lifetime, ergo, “revocable.” All revocable trusts become irrevocable on the creator’s death.
Individuals typically place property in a land trust to avoid creditors or probate. Avoiding probate is a valid reason; however, MYTH BUSTER: creditors can typically reach into a land trust with the appropriate court order and have a judgment lien placed on the property.
As mentioned, revocable living trusts allow individuals to place more than land into a trust for their beneficiaries. Placing assets in a valid revocable or irrevocable trust, also similar to a land trust, prevents beneficiaries from going to probate court and keeps the terms of the estate distribution private. However, unlike a land trust, real property in a revocable or irrevocable trust retains its essence as real property and the owner, as trustee, retains legal and equitable ownership.
Not only do revocable and irrevocable trusts save beneficiaries the time and money required to open a probate estate, but trusts may also provides estate tax and income tax minimization for beneficiaries and sometimes for grantors, which isn’t the case with land trusts.