Make a Living Trust in Massachusetts

Learn what a Massachusetts living trust can do for you.

Nolo

What Is a Living Trust?

A "living" trust (also called an "inter vivos" trust) is simply a trust you create while you're alive. The beneficiaries you name in your living trust receive the trust property when you die. You could instead use a will, but wills must go through probate—the court process that oversees the transfer of your property to your beneficiaries.

Many people create a revocable living trust as part of their estate plan. These trusts can be modified or revoked at any time. Typically, you'll name yourself as the "trustee" of your trust. This means that while you are alive, you retain control of the trust and its property. In your trust document, you will also name a "successor trustee" to take over and manage the trust (distribute your property) after you die. (If you create a shared living trust, as is often done by spouses, then your successor trustee would assume control after both spouses have died.)

In contrast, irrevocable trusts cannot be revoked or modified after they are signed. Irrevocable trusts can be useful tools for specific goals, like reducing taxes, but they require giving up ownership and control of trust property.

Do I Need a Living Trust in Massachusetts?

When you set up a living trust to transfer your property to your loved ones after your death, you can potentially save them time, hassle, and money. Property left through a will (rather than a living trust) might be tied up for months or even years in probate court, and could involve court costs and lawyers' fees. By contrast, property left through a trust can be distributed to your beneficiaries almost immediately, and often without the need for an attorney.

However, Massachusetts is one of the states that has fully adopted the Uniform Probate Code, a model law that streamlines the probate process. In other words, probate in Massachusetts might not be quite as cumbersome as it is in other states. In addition, Massachusetts has a simplified probate process for "small" estates. In Massachusetts, your estate can qualify for this probate shortcut if:

  • your estate doesn't include real estate, and the total property (excluding one vehicle) doesn't exceed $25,000, or
  • the value of the entire estate doesn't exceed certain allowances and exempt property, including the family allowance, funeral expenses, and medical expenses of a last illness.

If your estate is likely to qualify for a shortcut, the probate process will be fairly quick and easy, so you might not need to worry about making a living trust just to avoid probate.

In Massachusetts, If I Make a Living Trust, Do I Still Need a Will?

Yes, you'll still need a will. This might seem confusing—isn't the point of a living trust to avoid needing a will? Yes, it is, and your will might never be used. But you should still write one, for one or both of the following reasons:

  • Designating a guardian for minor children. You cannot use a trust to name a guardian for your minor children. For this reason alone, if you have minor children, you should write a will that names the guardian.
  • Accounting for property that you have not transferred to your trust. It happens all the time—people create a trust and forget to formally transfer property to the trust (for example, they never get around to changing the deed on their house). Or, people buy or inherit property after they've set up their trust, and forget or don't know to take ownership as the trustee of their trust. Either way, the property will not be distributed according to the terms of the trust. You should have a will as a backup to dictate how assets that are not in the trust should be distributed.

If you don't have a will, any property that isn't transferred by your living trust or other method (such as joint tenancy) will go to your closest relatives as determined by Massachusetts law.

Can a Living Trust Reduce Estate Tax in Massachusetts?

Probably not. Most people do not need to worry about federal estate taxes anyway because the federal estate tax is levied only on estates worth close to $12 million (or almost $24 million for married couples). That said, Massachusetts imposes its own separate state estate tax and has one of the lowest state estate tax exemption amounts in the country. In Massachusetts, if your estate is worth more than $1 million, it might owe estate taxes to the commonwealth. If you expect your estate to be over $1 million, you might be able to use a more complicated trust (such as an AB trust) to reduce or avoid estate taxes. To create such a trust, you'll want to consult a lawyer.

How Do I Make a Living Trust in Massachusetts?

To make a living trust in Massachusetts, you:

    1. Choose whether to make an individual or shared trust.
    2. Decide what property to include in the trust.
    3. Choose a successor trustee.
    4. Decide who will be the trust's beneficiaries—that is, who will get the trust property.
    5. Create the trust document. You can get help from an attorney or use Willmaker & Trust (see below).
    6. Sign the document in front of a notary public.
    7. Change the title of any trust property that has a title document—such as your house or car—to reflect that you now own the property as trustee of the trust.

    You can use WillMaker & Trust to make a living trust using your computer. It has a simple interview format that allows you to complete the trust at your own pace, and it gives you lots of legal and practical help along the way. Based on your responses, the program produces a living trust document customized for you and your situation. With WillMaker & Trust, you can also make a will, powers of attorney, health care directives, and many other useful documents. Use it just for yourself or for your entire family.

    For more on Massachusetts estate planning issues, see Massachusetts Estate Planning.

    Talk to a Lawyer

    Need a lawyer? Start here.

    How it Works

    1. Briefly tell us about your case
    2. Provide your contact information
    3. Choose attorneys to contact you
    Get Professional Help

    Talk to an Estate Planning attorney.

    How It Works

    1. Briefly tell us about your case
    2. Provide your contact information
    3. Choose attorneys to contact you