Creating a Child's Trust in Your Will

When you make a will with Nolo’s Online Will, you can set up property management for young beneficiaries who cannot or should not receive the property outright until they are older.

One of your options for property management is to create a child’s trust for your minor beneficiaries. A child's trust is a legal structure you can set up in your will. In it, you can direct that property slated for a young beneficiary must be managed until he or she turns an age you choose, through age 35.

The trustee’s powers are listed in your will, and they give the trustee wide discretion to use trust assets for the basic educational, health care, and daily needs of the beneficiary. Property in the child's trust can also be used to fund training or a college or graduate school education, or to start a household. All property you leave to a beneficiary for whom a trust is established will be managed under the terms of the trust.

Choosing a Trustee

The trustee you name will manage and spend the property for the benefit of the young beneficiary until he or she becomes the age you specify.

The person you name to manage the trust should be reliable, honest and capable of prudently managing resources. He or she should also live near the child.

To reduce the number of people caring for your child and your child's finances, consider naming the person who would care for the child if you die --this may be the child's other parent or the person you named as personal guardian.

But if that person isn't the right choice for trustee (for example, if you trust that person's ability to take care of your child, but not your child's property), then name another adult that could handle the job -- preferably one who can work well with the person who would be the child's guardian.

Finally, be sure to speak with your choice and get consent before you anyone as trustee.

Naming an Alternate Trustee

It is not necessary to name an alternate trustee, but it is a good idea. If your first choice is not available and you haven't chosen an alternate, a judge will appoint a trustee. This will cost time and money, and you will no longer be able to influence who will manage the child's property.

The same considerations for your first choice apply when choosing an alternate trustee.

Choosing an Age to End Management

Here you decide how old you want the beneficiary to be when the trust ends and the beneficiary receives the property outright. You can select any age up to 35. When choosing an age, consider the amount of money involved, the beneficiary's likely level of maturity as a young adult and the degree to which the property you're leaving will require sophisticated management.

Do Not Use This Trust for Beneficiaries with Special Needs

This child's trust does not provide the complicated and intensive management needed for those who have mental or physical disabilities or who have other severe problems such as substance abuse. You should also not use this child’s trust to a beneficiary who receives government disability benefits—your gift would jeopardize the beneficiary’s eligibility. Instead, consult a knowledgeable lawyer to find out the best legal options available, or learn more about special needs trusts.

Explaining Your Decisions

If you want to explain the choices you make in your will, we suggest that you do so in a letter that you attach to the will rather than in the will itself. This avoids any chance that you will accidentally add confusing or conflicting language to your legal document. A letter to survivors is a good, informal way to share the thoughts and reasons behind your decisions. If you want to write one, at the end of the will interview we offer guidance and examples to help you along.