Transferring assets into a living trust: Can you do it yourself?

You may have established a living trust, but it's not functional until you transfer ownership of your assets to it.

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by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

Setting up a living trust is the first step to having your assets owned by your revocable living trust. Funding a living trust means that your assets are transferred to the trust and are officially owned by it so the trust can function as you intended it to.

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Changing ownership of a trust

When you transfer assets to a living trust you are changing legal ownership of your assets from your name to that of the trust. Most people create a living trust with themselves as trustee, so you will still be able to use and control your assets, but they will technically be owned by the trust. Note that items in the trust will continue to be assigned to your social security number. To get started, you’ll want to make a complete list of the assets you want to transfer so that you are sure you don’t leave anything out.

Transferring real property to a trust

One of the largest assets most people own is their home, and this is likely an asset you want to transfer into your trust. You can transfer your home (or any real property) to the trust with a deed, a document that transfers ownership to the trust. A quitclaim deed is the most common and simplest method (and one you can do yourself). Alternatively, a warranty deed ensures you have good title when you transfer it and may make it easier for your trust beneficiaries to sell the home down the line.

You will want to check with an attorney about which type of deed is best in your situation. Some states require that all deeds be prepared by attorneys so you may not have a self-help option. Once the deed form is prepared, a real estate deed must be filed with your county and you will need to pay a filing fee.

A deed transfer should not affect your mortgage, even if you have a due on sale provision. You should check on your title insurance (if you have any) though. You may be able to simply transfer it to the trust, or your title insurance company may require that the trust buy a new policy.

Once the deed is transferred, you may need to change your homeowner’s insurance to indicate the trust as owner of the property. If you receive a real estate tax exemption, you will want to make sure that is properly applied by showing documentation of the trust to the taxing authority, such as a certificate of trust (a document your attorney can create that certifies the existence of the trust).

Transferring vehicles to a trust

If you would like to transfer ownership of your car or truck to your trust, you need to first determine if your state will allow a trust to hold ownership of a vehicle (check the DMV web site or consult your attorney). You also should call your insurance company to be certain they will continue coverage once the transfer is made. To transfer ownership, you will need to obtain a title change form from your DMV and complete it, naming the trustee (as trustee of your trust) as new owner. Sales tax should not apply to the transfer and if the clerk tries to apply it, you will need to speak to a supervisor. If you own a boat, you will need to follow a similar procedure to transfer title.

Transferring financial assets to a trust

To transfer assets such as investments, bank accounts, or stock to your real living trust, you will need to contact the institution and complete a form. You will likely need to provide a certificate of trust as well. You may want to keep your personal checking and savings account out of the trust for ease of use.

Transferring personal property to a trust

You likely own many things that you don’t have actual written titles or ownership documents for, such as jewelry, furniture, collectibles, and the miscellaneous things that fill your home. To place them in your living trust fund, you can name them in your trust document on a property schedule (basically a list you attach to the trust document that is referred to in the document) and indicate that their ownership is being transferred to the trust. If any of these items are insured, be sure to transfer the insurance to the name of the trust.

What cannot be placed in a trust?

There are some things that cannot or should not be placed in your trust. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) cannot be owned by a trust, so these must remain in your own name, but you can name the trust as a primary or secondary beneficiary. Revocable living trusts are often named as beneficiaries of a life insurance policy. It's a good idea to talk to a lawyer or accountant to understand any tax implications of doing so.

If you purchase or inherit items after you create the trust, you may want to transfer those items to the trust as soon as possible. If possible, when you purchase items, purchase them as trustee of the trust so they are automatically placed in the trust.

Consider a pour-over will

To further protect yourself, you will want a pour-over will. This last will and testament can be prepared by your attorney and will indicate that any items left in your name are transferred to the trust upon your death, so that your trust will be complete and provide all the benefits you created it for.

Double-check your list of assets to be certain you have moved them to your trust. Ensuring that your living trust is properly funded will provide you with the protection you seek and the peace of mind that your affairs are in order.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.