Make a Living Trust in South Carolina

Learn what a living trust can do for you in South Carolina.

Updated by , Attorney George Mason University Law School
Updated 6/07/2024

If you're a resident of South Carolina and trying to decide whether you need a living trust, you might be wondering what to take into consideration. What happens to your property under South Carolina laws if you don't have a trust? When might you want a living trust? How do you make a living trust? Below is an introduction to what a living trust does and a discussion of whether it makes sense for your situation.

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. You can modify or revoke (cancel) this type of trust at any time. Typically, you'll name yourself as the "trustee" of your trust. This means that you retain control of the trust and its property while you're alive. In your trust document, you'll also name a "successor trustee" to take over and manage the trust (including distributing your property) after you die. (If you create a shared living trust, as is often done by married couples, then your successor trustee would assume control after both spouses have died.)

In contrast, irrevocable trusts can't be revoked or modified after they're 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 South Carolina?

When you set up a living trust to transfer your property to your loved ones after your death, you can potentially save them a lot of 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.

Fortunately, South Carolina is one of the states that has fully adopted a model law called the Uniform Probate Code, which streamlines the probate process. In other words, going through the probate process in South Carolina might not be quite as cumbersome as it is in other states.

In addition, South Carolina also offers simplified probate processes for "small" estates. Your inheritors can skip probate court altogether and use a simple affidavit (sworn statement) to claim personal property if the value of the entire estate doesn't exceed $25,000. However, you can't use the affidavit to claim real estate. (S.C. Code § 62-3-1201 (2024).)

A separate probate shortcut is also available if:

  • the value of the entire estate doesn't exceed $25,000 (not counting exempt property, costs of administration, funeral expenses, and medical expenses of last illness), or
  • the executor(s) or personal representative(s) are the sole beneficiaries of your will (or your sole heirs, if you die without a will).

(S.C. Code § 62-3-1203 (2024).)

If your estate qualifies for one of these fast-track procedures, you might not need to worry about making a living trust just to avoid probate. Even if it doesn't qualify, you could very reasonably conclude that making a will rather than a living trust is sufficient for your purposes, since South Carolina has a relatively simple probate process, compared to other states. Still, there are a few other advantages of making a living trust. (See Living Trust vs. Will.)

In South Carolina, 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 can't 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 haven't 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 won't be distributed according to the terms of the trust. You should have a will as a backup to dictate how to distribute assets that aren't in the trust.

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 South Carolina state law.

Can a Living Trust Reduce Estate Tax in South Carolina?

Probably not. But most people don't need to worry about federal estate taxes anyway because the federal estate tax is levied only on estates worth more than $13.61 million (for deaths in 2024). South Carolina doesn't have its own state estate tax.

That said, if you have an estate worth more than $13.61 million—or you and your spouse have a combined estate of close to $27.22 million—you might be able to use a more complicated trust (such as an AB trust) to reduce or avoid federal estate taxes.

How Do I Make a Living Trust in South Carolina?

To make a living trust in South Carolina, 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, transfer on death deeds, and many other useful documents. Use it just for yourself or for your entire family.

    For more on South Carolina estate planning issues, see South Carolina Estate Planning.

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