Setting up a trust fund can be a better way to leave money to your kids than a will. If you die when they're too young to manage the money, the court wrapping up your affairs will appoint someone to manage it for them. By creating a living trust, you can pick the trustee you want to handle their affairs and sign trust paperwork.
When you create a living trust, you become the trust grantor or settlor. While you're alive, you can also serve as the trustee. You sign over your assets -- your house, investment accounts, rental property -- into the trust's name. If the trust assets require further paperwork -- selling real estate, for instance -- you can sign using your name as trustee. You can create one trust for each child, or a big trust that manages money for all of your minor children, known as beneficiaries under the trust.
After you die, the successor trustee steps in. She manages the trust fund according to your instructions until your children come of age. If the trust has to pay bills, sell assets, invest accounts or send money to your child on his birthday, the trustee signs for it. The law says she's obligated to manage the trust in the children's interest, not her own.
Some grantors select two trustees to manage the money. Typically, one of them is a family member, and the other is a financial or legal professional who can provide financial guidance and advice. You have to spell out how you want that to work -- whether they both sign when signatures are required and what happens if they disagree. It's a tricky situation because if one trustee makes a bad decision independently, the other trustee is still legally liable for any problems that follow.
Ending the Trust
It's up to you how long the trust is going to last. You can set it up so your children receive the trust's assets when they turn 18, 21 or even 30. If you have one trust for all of the children, it usually doesn't end until the youngest child reaches the cut-off age. At this point, the trustee signs over assets from the trust fund to your children, per your original instructions. Once he signs over the last asset, the trust dissolves.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.