You Might Need a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust

Depending on the nature of the property you own and how it’s titled, you may want to ask your lawyer to create a trust that will help you meet all your estate planning needs. To prepare for such an appointment, be sure to take along two lists – one noting all the properties you own and the other indicating the beneficiaries you want to help by naming them in the trust.

Your attorney will need to ask some general questions to help you decide which one of these trusts is best suited to your current financial situation.

Before describing some of the precise differences between revocable and irrevocable trusts, this article will note some of the general reasons why they’re often desirable.

What general benefits do trusts often confer on estate planning clients?

  • They can help maximize family privacy. Most property that passes to beneficiaries under trusts is never publicly disclosed — except to the extent that certain taxes may be owed on gifts given or received. Obviously, when property passes through probate, members of the public can learn about your estate by reviewing court records. Therefore, trusts offer greater privacy;
  • Trusts can help protect your assets from outside creditors. While this goal can be achieved if you’re not attempting to defraud others when you have the trust created, you must be prepared to answer questions if creditors sue you. If you want to put assets in a trust in hopes of getting around specific Medicaid rules and regulations, you must let your lawyer explain how the government prevents fraud in this legal area;
  • They can provide specific tax advantages. For example, since property or assets placed in an irrevocable trust account are considered owned by the trust and not by the grantor who had it created, those assets will not be treated as part of your estate (for tax purposes) at the time you pass away. (However, any assets in a revocable trust when you die will be taxed as part of your overall estate);
  • Trusts can provide added financial security to a dependent disabled person. In order to qualify for some Social Security benefits, recipients must meet certain financial criteria. If they own too much property or are too wealthy, they won’t be qualified to obtain key benefits. One legal way to get around this problem is to place assets in an irrevocable trust and name the disabled person as a beneficiary. Your Houston estate planning attorney can explain this process in greater detail. Aging parents and others often set up trust accounts like this to be sure seriously disabled family members will have enough to live on in the future – long after others have passed on;
  • At the time of a divorce, most trust funds should remain protected. However, you cannot place funds in a trust prior to a divorce to try and defeat your spouse’s community property rights;
  • Properly created trusts have long helped grantors provide for the basic needs of their loved ones.

It’s important to note that all trusts are categorized as either “testamentary” or “living” (inter vivos) trusts. The latter type become viable during the grantor’s lifetime – while testamentary trusts – which are directly linked to your Will — don’t go into effect until you’ve passed away.

What are some specific benefits of revocable trusts?

  • They can provide ongoing control over all trust assets. If you create a revocable trust, you can decide if you want to serve as the trustee and move certain assets in and out of the trust when you choose, depending on the terms you created for the trust;
  • You can change the terms of the trust when you choose. This might mean picking a new trustee or altering the list of beneficiaries;
  • They are relatively easy to handle at tax time. As the grantor (or creator) of this trust, you can simply declare your earnings from the trust in your personal tax return.

What are some specific benefits of irrevocable trusts?

  • The trust assets are usually considered safe from the reach of outside creditors. This will prove true if you didn’t have the trust created to defraud others. Courts will review all aspects of the trust’s initial drafting when checking to be sure it wasn’t set it up to defeat known debts;
  • As noted above, disabled people needing to receive special Social Security benefits can often receive critical added funds from properly drafted irrevocable trusts;
  • For tax purposes, the IRS and others don’t usually view these trust assets as being owned by the grantor at the time of his/her death. Therefore, any assets in the trust at the time the grantor dies will not be added to assets outside the trust when calculating any estate taxes that may be due.

Always keep in mind that the laws controlling the creation of trusts change periodically. Be sure to always confer with your Houston estate planning lawyer who keeps up with such changes before ever trying to create or modify a trust. Attorneys also stay abreast of all new state probate laws that may affect clients’ estate plans.

Should you need any help with creating or updating a trust account, please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys. We’re ready to provide the legal advice you’ll need to fully protect your assets in the future. Our firm can also help you revise your estate plan as your family continues to grow and new investments are added to your portfolio.

Basic Requirements for Creating a Trust in Texas

Before meeting with your lawyer to create a trust, it should prove helpful to first review the following general legal terms and requirements that govern this effort. Once you understand your duties and the different parties you’ll need to name in the trust, you’ll be better prepared to begin listing the property you wish to transfer through your trust.

Key terms such as grantor, trustee, beneficiary and trust agreement

If you’re the party seeking to create a trust, you may be referenced in the trust document as the grantor, settlor or trustor. In order to create a valid trust in Texas, you must have the present intent or goal to create this type of document that allows you to protect property in a trust during your lifetime. Depending on the exact type of trust you create, you may also retain the right to fully control the property during your lifetime – which may include moving specific bits of property it in and out of the trust according to your needs.

Among your various duties as the grantor, you’ll need to decide who you want to name as the trustee – or controlling party – of your trust. If you choose to create the type of trust that must be managed and controlled by another party, you’ll have to decide if this should be your lawyer, a family member or another party with strong financial management skills.

As the creator of the trust, it will also be up to you to carefully describe all the duties you want your trustee to handle and how you prefer that those duties be carried out. And if you’ve chosen to act as the trustee, you should also name a potential “successor trustee” who can step in and take over if (or when) you become incapacitated — or pass away.

Additional requirements that must be met when creating your trust

You’ll need to be of sound mind, fully capable of understanding all that you’re trying to do with your property and have a proper legal purpose for the trust. In other words, you’ll just need your lawyer to state the specific type of lawful trust that you’re creating – such as a revocable, irrevocable or spendthrift trust – and which parties will receive the benefit of the properties held within the trust.

Texas law also mandates that your trust fully complies with all the requirements of the Statute of Frauds. This basically means that the trust is set forth in writing and is properly executed in full keeping with that statute so that it’s legally enforceable in a court of law. Your Houston estate planning attorney can also explain to you why certain gifts must become vested within set time periods so that they’re not in violation of the Rule Against Perpetuities.

Why you may need more than one trust

In addition to creating a trust that provides all your property with certain tax advantages during your lifetime, you may also wish to create an educational trust that will benefit your grandchildren or even one to cover the needs of a beloved pet after you pass away.

A simultaneous review of your entire estate plan will also benefit you

Whether you’re married or single, it’s always wise to carefully review all your assets with your attorney when creating a trust. In some cases, you may even want to go ahead and change how certain property is currently titled and change some investment accounts so that they’ll pay out directly to specific beneficiaries at the time you pass away – thereby lessening the duties of any party you’ve named as your trustee.

Please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can create the type of trust you currently need. We’ll also help you review your overall estate plan and provide you with legal advice about the right way to properly manage any property or business interests not currently covered by a trust.

A Few “Factors” to Consider

Should a Subcontractor be allowed to assign, sell, or otherwise transfer (factor) an account receivable due from a general contractor for work performed on a construction project? We say, absolutely not. Here’s the problem.

Construction funds are trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.001(a) (commonly referred to as the “Trust Funds Statute”). Even loan receipts are trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.001(b).

A contractor, subcontractor or owner, or an officer, director, or agent of a contractor, subcontractor, or owner, who receives trust funds or who has control or direction of trust funds, is a trustee of the trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.002.

An artisan, laborer, mechanic, contractor, subcontractor, or materialman who labors or who furnishes labor or material for the construction or repair of an improvement on specific real property is a beneficiary of any trust funds paid or received in connection with the improvements. Texas Property Code §162.003.

A general contractor is a trustee of construction funds paid to it by the owner. A subcontractor would be a beneficiary of the trust funds paid to the general contractor in connection with the improvements at the project. In turn, once paid, the subcontractor becomes a trustee.

A trustee who, intentionally or knowingly or with intent to defraud, directly or indirectly, retains, uses, disburses, or otherwise diverts trust funds without first fully paying all current or past due obligations incurred by the trustee to the beneficiaries of the trust funds, has misapplied the trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.031.

A trustee who misapplies trust funds amounting to $500 or more in violation of Chapter 162, with intent to defraud, commits a felony of the third degree. Texas Property Code §162.032 (b). If the misapplication of trust funds by a trustee constitutes another offense punishable under the laws of this State, the State may elect the offense for which it will prosecute the trustee. Texas Property Code §162.033.

Under Section 9.406 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code, once the account debtor (General Contractor) receives notification of the assignment of an account (invoice), the account debtor cannot discharge its obligation by paying the assignor (Subcontractor). After receipt of the notification, the account debtor (General Contractor) may discharge its obligation only by paying the assignee (Factor Company).

This situation results in a legal paradox.

1. On the one hand, Subcontractor has relieved itself from the implications of the Trust Fund Statute. Subcontractor is no longer receiving “trust funds” for its services provided at the construction project. It is receiving funds for the work from a third source, Factor Company. After receipt of these funds, Subcontractor can “retain, use or disburse” those funds any way it chooses without worry of the implications imposed by the Trust Fund Statute.

2. Factor Company would argue that it is not a Trustee, subject to the Trust Fund Statute. Thus, after receiving payment of trust funds from the account debtor, it does not have to pay any beneficiaries of Subcontractor.

3. On the other hand, General Contractor is required to pay Subcontractor under the Trust Fund Statute. If General Contractor pays Factor Company, General Contractor, its owners, or officers, or directors face potential criminal liability. Further, if General Contractor pays Factor Company, and Factor Company does not pay Subcontractor beneficiaries, the project is subject to lien. If General Contractor does not pay Factor Company, then General Contractor is subject to liability under Section 9.406 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code.

By factoring the accounts receivable, Factor Company, Subcontractor, its owner or officers, and directors have circumvented the trust fund statute, is not a trustee, and thus can use those funds for any purpose thus avoiding a criminal penalty. This unintended result cannot be tolerated in the construction setting.

Keeping an owner’s construction project property free and clear of liens is a constant concern for general contractors. Because subcontractors typically purchase materials to be incorporated into the construction project from third parties, it is important that the flow of funds from the owner to the general contractor to the subcontractor make their way to the suppliers to prevent liens filed by these outside third party suppliers. If a subcontractor were allowed to assign (factor) its account receivable due under a construction contract, and if payment would have to be made to the assignee, how would the assignor’s (subcontractors) suppliers, materialmen, and laborers be paid to prevent liens?

It could be argued that Subcontractor could (and should) pay the funds it receives from the factor to the beneficiaries. However, in the real world that does not happen. That’s why we have the Trust Fund Statute. It is for these reasons that the factoring, sale, or assignment of a right to payment under a construction contract for construction or repair of an improvement on specific real property in this State be declared void as against public policy. A seemingly legal means to avoid criminal prosecution should not be tolerated and in the interest of public policy should be invalidated and voided.