Transferring Assets Into a Living Trust – Can You Do It Yourself?

Transferring Assets Into a Living Trust – Can You Do It Yourself?

by Brette Sember, Esq., March 2015

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

Changing Ownership to the Trust

When you transfer assets 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. When funding a living trust, ownership will be transferred from you to (Your Name), Trustee of the (Your Name) Living Trust. Note that items in the trust will continue to use 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 Your Trust

One of the largest assets most people own is their home and this is likely an asset you want to be sure to transfer into your trust. You can transfer your home (or any real property) to the trust with a deed transfer, a document that transfers ownership to the trust. A quitclaim deed is the simplest method (and one you can do yourself), however a warranty deed may be preferred since it ensures you have good title when you transfer it and makes it easier for your trust beneficiaries to sell 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 transfer must be filed with your county and you will likely 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 will 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 transferred and you may need to show 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).

Drive the Changes Home

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. Note that owning a vehicle in the name of a trust can be detrimental if you are in an accident. The other person may assume you are wealthy if they realize your car is owned by a trust and sue. If you own a boat, you will need to follow a similar procedure to transfer title.

Big Finance

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.

Other Personal Property

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.

Items Not to Be Trusted

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. In some states life insurance policies cannot be owned by a trust, and if it is allowed it generally is not advisable since it may make the benefits taxable.

Covering All Your Bases

If you purchase or inherit items after you create the trust, you will need 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. 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 all 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.

If you haven't set up a living trust yet, LegalZoom can help you get started. Start by completing an easy-to understand online questionnaire. We'll review your answers and send you the living trust document.