Understanding Trusts A Guide by Houston Attorney, Christy K. Brown

Understanding Trusts A Guide by Houston Attorney Christy K. Brown

Estate planning is a critical process that ensures your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes after you pass away or if you become incapacitated. One of the most effective tools in estate planning is a trust. Christy K. Brown, recognized as Houston’s best estate planning and trust attorney, offers a comprehensive breakdown of what trusts are, the different types of trusts available, and essential considerations before creating a trust.


What is a Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement that allows one party, known as the trustor or settlor, to transfer assets to a second party, called the trustee, for the benefit of a third party, the beneficiary. This framework is designed to provide a level of protection and management for the trustor’s assets, ensuring they are distributed according to specific wishes or conditions.


Trusts can be set up for various purposes, including asset protection, tax planning, and providing for loved ones who may not be capable of managing their finances. They offer a flexible way to manage property both during the trustor’s lifetime and after their passing, often allowing beneficiaries to avoid the lengthy and public process of probate.


There are two main types of trusts: living trusts, established during the trustor’s lifetime, and testamentary trusts, created as part of a will to take effect after death. Living trusts can be further divided into revocable, which can be altered or dissolved by the trustor at any time, and irrevocable, which cannot be changed once established, offering benefits like asset protection and tax advantages.


The Parties Involved in a Trust


Trustor: The Architect of the Trust

The trustor, also known as the grantor or settlor, is the cornerstone of any trust arrangement. This individual initiates the trust by transferring ownership of their assets into it, essentially setting the trust’s purpose and terms into motion. The trustor’s role is pivotal because they decide the trust’s structure, select the trustee and beneficiaries, and determine the rules under which the trust will operate. Their motivations can vary widely, from the desire to protect assets and minimize taxes to ensuring financial support for a loved one. Once the trust is established and assets are transferred, the trustor’s direct control over these assets typically ceases, especially in the case of an irrevocable trust, thereby entrusting the management of the assets to the appointed trustee.


Trustee: The Guardian and Manager

The trustee acts as the guardian and manager of the trust’s assets. This role involves a significant level of responsibility and fiduciary duty, as the trustee must manage the trust’s assets in the best interest of the beneficiaries, according to the specific terms laid out by the trustor. Their duties include investing assets wisely, ensuring the trust’s assets are protected and properly accounted for, and making distributions to beneficiaries as dictated by the trust’s terms. Trustees can be individuals or institutions, such as a bank or a trust company, and their selection is a critical decision since they must be both trustworthy and capable of fulfilling the trust’s objectives.


Beneficiary: The Recipient of the Trust’s Assets

Beneficiaries are the individuals or entities that the trust is designed to benefit. They have the right to receive income or other assets from the trust, as stipulated by the terms established by the trustor. Beneficiaries can be named specifically in the trust document, or they can be identified as members of a certain group (e.g., “my children” or “my grandchildren”). The beneficiary’s role is more passive compared to that of the trustor and trustee, as they do not manage the trust’s assets. However, their well-being and financial future often depend significantly on how the trust is managed and the trustee’s decisions, making the selection of a reliable and competent trustee of paramount importance for protecting the beneficiaries’ interests.


Different Types of Trusts

Trusts can be broadly categorized into two types: living trusts and testamentary trusts. Each type has subcategories, designed to suit different estate planning needs and goals.


Living Trusts (Inter Vivos Trusts)

Living trusts are established during the trustor’s lifetime, offering flexibility and control over how assets are managed and distributed. These can be categorized into two main types: revocable and irrevocable living trusts, each serving different estate planning objectives.


Revocable Living Trusts

Revocable living trusts provide a high degree of control to the trustor, who retains the ability to modify or dissolve the trust at any point during their lifetime. This type of trust is attractive for individuals seeking flexibility in their estate plan, allowing them to respond to changes in their financial situation, family dynamics, or estate planning goals. Upon the trustor’s demise, the trust effectively becomes irrevocable, and assets held within the trust are distributed to the beneficiaries without the need for probate, offering privacy and efficiency in administering the estate.


Irrevocable Living Trusts

Once established, irrevocable living trusts cannot be altered or revoked without the explicit consent of the beneficiaries. This permanence offers significant advantages, such as protection from creditors and estate tax benefits, since the assets transferred into the trust are no longer considered part of the trustor’s estate. Irrevocable trusts require the trustor to relinquish control over the assets, making them an excellent tool for long-term asset protection and tax planning strategies.


Testamentary Trusts

In contrast to living trusts, testamentary trusts are created as directives within a will and only take effect upon the trustor’s death. These trusts are particularly useful for managing and protecting assets for beneficiaries who may not be capable of handling financial matters themselves, such as minor children or individuals with special needs.


Special Types of Trusts

Charitable Trusts: Designed to benefit a particular charity or the public and can provide tax benefits to the trustor.


Special Needs Trusts: Created to ensure that beneficiaries who are disabled or have special needs can receive inheritance without losing eligibility for government assistance.


Spendthrift Trusts: Protects the trust’s assets from being squandered by a beneficiary and from creditors.


Key Considerations Before Creating a Trust

Assessing Your Estate Planning Goals

Before establishing a trust, it’s crucial to understand your estate planning goals. Are you aiming to avoid probate? Do you want to reduce estate taxes, provide for a loved one with special needs, or protect your assets from creditors? The type of trust you choose will depend on your specific objectives.


Choosing the Right Type of Trust

With the variety of trusts available, selecting the appropriate type is paramount. For instance, a revocable living trust might be ideal for someone who wants flexibility and control over their assets, while an irrevocable trust may be better suited for those looking to protect assets and reduce estate taxes.


Selecting Trustees

The choice of trustee is a critical decision in the trust creation process. Trustees have significant responsibilities, including managing and distributing assets. You may choose an individual, such as a family member or friend, or a professional trustee, like a bank or trust company. The complexity of the trust and the assets involved often influence this choice.


Understanding the Tax Implications

Trusts can have significant tax implications, both for the trustor during their lifetime and for the beneficiaries after the trustor’s death. It’s essential to consult with an estate planning attorney and a tax advisor to understand these implications and structure the trust in a tax-efficient manner.


Regularly Reviewing and Updating the Trust

Life circumstances change, and so should your estate planning documents. Regularly reviewing and updating your trust ensures that it remains aligned with your goals and life situations, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children or grandchildren, and changes in the law.



Trusts are a versatile and powerful tool in estate planning, capable of providing financial protection, ensuring privacy, and fulfilling philanthropic goals. Whether you’re considering a living trust for its flexibility or a testamentary trust as part of your will, understanding the nuances of each type is crucial. Christy K. Brown, Houston’s best estate planning and trust attorney, emphasizes the importance of personalized legal advice when navigating the complexities of trust creation. By carefully considering your estate planning objectives and consulting with professionals, you can establish a trust that effectively safeguards your legacy and benefits your loved ones.


Why Choose Attorney Brown for Your Estate and Probate Needs?

Choosing Attorney Christy K. Brown for your estate and probate needs means placing your trust in a highly experienced and dedicated professional. With nearly two decades of expertise, Principal Attorney Brown stands out as a No-Nonsense, Forward-Thinking, and Result-Oriented probate, estate planning, and business lawyer. She is known for her commitment to treating each client’s concerns with equal attention, creativity, and relentless pursuit of their goals, ensuring personalized and effective legal solutions. Moreover, her approach to client relations emphasizes clear communication and understanding, making her clients feel heard and supported throughout the complex probate process. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our office today or schedule your free 15-minute phone consultation to discover how Attorney Brown can navigate you through the intricacies of probate, providing peace of mind and securing your legacy for the future.

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