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How to Make a Family Trust

If you or a family member has assets that you want to keep in the family and you'd like to avoid death taxes and claims against the estate, a family trust can be the ideal way to set things up. Trusts come in two main forms, revocable and irrevocable, and you can establish a family trust either way. If you decide to go with an irrevocable trust it might be best to work with a lawyer, since you can't change it once it's done, but a revocable trust, also called a living trust, is easy to set up and administer.

Purpose of a Family Trust

A family trust is typically set up to provide for the easy transfer of assets after the grantor, who is the person that has established the trust, dies. A trust gives the beneficiaries, those who are receiving the proceeds of the trust, a number of financial benefits. These include minimal estate taxes, avoidance of probate and a way to shelter the trust's assets from claims made against the estate. A living trust also lets you dictate that the assets in the trust be used to care for you in the event that you become incapacitated by an accident or unexpected illness.

Identify Assets

Make a list of everything you want to include in the trust. Note all items of value, such as real estate, cash and stocks. Leave out the cars, since they tend to depreciate rather quickly and are not usually included in a trust. You may want to establish your family trust with a minimal amount of $100 to $500. You can add things to the trust as you get older, but in the meantime you have complete control over all of your assets, and it's a bit easier to manage than if they are included as part of a trust.

Choose Trustees

You have to name the trustees at the time you set up your trust. Depending on how you set up your trust, you can usually change the names of the trustees at any point. The exception to this is an irrevocable trust, which can't be changed once it's made, or a blind trust, which gives control of all the assets to the trustee. The average family trust is a living trust, and the grantor often is also the trustee. If this is your trust, that gives you the power to control your own assets until you die.


If you're setting up a living trust, you probably don't need a lawyer, unless your situation is complicated. You'll need to give the trust a name and identify one or more beneficiaries. Draft the trust document to specify all the details, including who gets what if there's more than one beneficiary, and add a property list detailing what's included. Transfer each item into the trust, which means that the owner of items such as real estate and stocks will now be the trust instead of an individual. Have a notary witness your signature to complete the process.