Signing, Storing, and Registering Your Trust

After you make your living trust document, there are still a few things to do...

After you’ve completed the interview for your Nolo’s Online Living Trust, you’re almost done – but you still have several absolutely vital steps to take care of. You must print out your living trust document, sign it, have it notarized, and transfer your property into the trust. Here is information about signing and storing your document.

We provide instructions for Transferring Property to the Trust in a separate article.

Before You Sign

When you've printed out the trust document, take plenty of time to read it. Carefully. Make sure it says what you want it to say. Check to be sure you have:

  • included all property you want to leave through the trust
  • clearly and accurately identified all property (double-check any account or serial numbers, for example)
  • included all beneficiaries to whom you want to leave property
  • spelled beneficiaries' names correctly and consistently, and
  • made adequate arrangements for management of trust property that young beneficiaries might inherit.

If you want to make changes, go back to the part of the program you need to change, enter the new data and print out another trust document.

Consulting a Lawyer

Although in most instances it isn't necessary, you may also want to have an experienced estate planning lawyer look over the trust document before you sign it. We recommend that you see a lawyer if:

  • You're unsure about the legal effect of anything in the trust document.
  • You want to make changes, even if they seem insignificant, to the trust document.

The cost of paying an estate planning attorney to review the trust document should be reasonable, especially compared to the cost of having an attorney do the whole thing from scratch.

See more about hiring a lawyer in If You Need More Help.

Signing Your Trust Document in Front of a Notary

To create a valid living trust, you must sign the trust document. In most places, a living trust document, unlike a will, does not need to be signed in front of witnesses. (In Florida, two witnesses are required; a witness statement automatically prints out with the Florida trust document.) But you do need to sign your living trust document in front of a notary public for your state. If you create a shared living trust, both of you need to sign the trust document in front of the notary. If anyone challenges the authenticity of your signature after your death, the notarization will serve as evidence that it is genuine. And some institutions (stock brokerage houses, for example) may require that the signature be notarized before they will transfer assets into your name as trustee.

You can usually find a notary public at a bank, title or escrow company, real estate brokerage or library. Or search online for "notary public" and the name of your city.

Getting a signature notarized is quite simple. You show some evidence of your identity, and then the notary watches you sign the trust document and signs and dates it, too. The notary also stamps a notarial seal on the document.

You must also sign the Property Schedules and Assignment of Property that print out with your trust document. The Assignment of Property is the form that shows that you are transferring certain kinds of personal property to the trust, see Transferring Property to the Trust. These documents don't have to be notarized.

Making Copies

You will probably need copies of the trust document to transfer certain kinds of property (stocks, for example) to yourself in your capacity as trustee. If a broker, bank or other institution wants to see your trust document, use a photocopy of the original trust document -- the one you signed and had notarized. Do not just print out and sign another copy. Each copy you actually sign becomes, legally, an original trust document. Later, if you amend or revoke your living trust, you don't want lots of duplicate original trust documents floating around.

You should give a copy of the trust document to anyone you named to be a custodian of trust property inherited by a young beneficiary. The custodian may need it to show his or her authority to manage the property on behalf of the beneficiary.

It's not usually advisable to give copies of the trust document to beneficiaries. The problem is that if you later revoke or amend the trust but don't collect all the old copies, outdated copies of your trust document will still exist.

Registration

Some states require that the trustee of a trust register the trust with the local court. But there are no legal consequences or penalties if you don't.

Here is a list of states that use trust registration:

  • Alaska
  • Colorado**
  • Florida*
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Maine*
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska*
  • North Dakota

* Not mandatory
** Registration of a revocable living trust not required until the grantor's death; no registration required if all trust property is distributed to the beneficiaries then.

Registration of a living trust doesn't give the court any power over the administration of the trust, unless there's a dispute. Registration serves to give the court jurisdiction over any disputes involving the trust -- for example, if after your death, a beneficiary wants to object to the way your successor trustee distributed the trust property. But if you don't register your trust, the result is the same: The court still has jurisdiction if a disgruntled relative or creditor files suit. (The only exception is that if a court demands that a trustee register a trust, and the trustee refuses, the trustee can be removed.)

To register a revocable living trust, the trustee must file a statement with the court where the trustee resides or keeps trust records. The statement must include:

  • the name and address of the trustee
  • an acknowledgment of the trusteeship
  • the name(s) of the grantor(s)
  • the name(s) of the original trustee(s), and
  • the date of the trust document.

A trust can be registered in only one state at a time.

Storing the Trust Document

Store your living trust document where you keep important papers such as your will or durable power of attorney. A fireproof box in your home or office is fine. If you want to be extra careful, a safe deposit box is a good choice.

Make sure your successor trustee (or your spouse or partner, if you made a trust together) knows where the original trust document is and can get hold of it soon after your death. The new trustee will need it to carry out your instructions on how to manage and distribute trust property. The new trustee will also need the information in After a Grantor Dies to carry out his or her duties.

Copies of your trust document stored on your computer are not valid living trusts. The trust document must be printed out and signed to create a trust.

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