A living trust allows you to transfer property to the people and charities of your choice without going through probate, the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. A trust avoids probate because assets transferred into the trust are held in the trust’s name and not in your name as an individual.
This bring us to some common questions regarding a living trust—what should you name it? And can you change it once you have named it? Is privacy a consideration?
What follows are some frequently asked questions and answers regarding naming a living trust.
Why Should I Be Concerned With Naming a Living Trust?
In order for a trust to actually hold title to property, whether it is a home, brokerage account, business interest, etc., the trust must be identifiable. The way a trust is identifiable is by its formal name. Contrary to what many people think, you don’t have to name your trust your full family name. You do have other options.
What Are Some Considerations When Naming a Trust?
Sometimes a name might feel too long or you may be concerned about privacy issues. When you name a trust, the name you choose for the actual title of the trust will be in the title of each asset in the trust. Plus, in most cases, the person(s) transferring assets into the trust are the trustees of the trust. The name of the trustee of the trust will be on title of your trust assets.
So, if you put a bank account into your trust, you would need to rename the bank account to be your name, as trustee, followed by the name of the trust. For example, if someone named John H. Smith transferred his bank account into his trust named “The John H. and Mildred R. Smith Living Trust” and was the trustee, the owner of the account would be “John Smith, Trustee of the John H. and Mildred R. Smith Living Trust.”
In light of this requirement, people often choose to shorten the name of the trust—in this example perhaps to the “Smith Family Trust” rather than the “John H. and Mildred R. Smith Family Trust.” The title of the trust accounts and real estate would be “John H. Smith, Trustee of the Smith Family Trust.”
Do I Need to Include the Word “Family” in My Trust?
No, it is not a requirement to use the word “family” in your trust name. You might prefer simply a combination of last names. Or another name entirely.
If I Don’t Use a Family Name in the Trust Name, What Are My Options?
You can name a trust anything you like, and the name can be long, short, simple or complicated. When choosing a name, keep in mind that the name will be in the title of any asset held in the trust. This consideration may inspire some to keep the name on the short side.
There are situations where the owner chooses not to include his or her personal name in the trust title. For example, if someone has a trust that will only ever hold a particular piece of real estate and nothing more, the owner might name the trust after the property address. So, using the above example, if John H. Smith decided to name his trust after a particular property, like “The Main Street Trust,” title to the property would be “John H. Smith, Trustee of the Main Street Trust.”
Note that if any property held in the trust is transferred out of the trust, and later transferred back into the trust, the same name of the trust must be used again, unless the trust's name is changed as mentioned below.
Can I Name Someone Else as Trustee of the Trust and Protect My Privacy?
You can name someone else as trustee, but you do so at your own peril. Usually trusts provide that someone else takes over only if the owner is not competent to handle his or her assets, or has passed away. You would essentially be signing over control of your assets to someone else while you are still living. For most people, this would not be advisable.
One notable exception involves celebrities purchasing new homes. They often create trusts just to hold their homes and name a trusted advisor as trustee. That way, their name is nowhere to be found in connection with the property. In doing so, they would have to work closely with an attorney.
Should I Name the Living Trust After Myself or a Family Member?
It is most common to include at least the last name of a person putting their property into the trust in the trust’s name. It is, after all, that person’s property.
Do I Have to Include the Date on Which the Trust Was Signed in the Name of the Trust?
Although you don’t have to use the date of the trust's signing in the trust name, having it in the title is useful for future reference when seeking to identify the trust. It’s also helpful to include the date if a person has more than one trust with similar names.
Can I Change the Name of a Living Trust?
By its very nature, a living trust is changeable. But if you do change the name of the trust, you must also retitle the trust assets in the new trust name.
Final Thoughts on Naming a Trust
Once you've decided to create a living trust, naming it appropriately is an early step in creating an estate plan that works for you. By taking into consideration the factors discussed above, you can better ensure the name you choose is right for you.