5 reasons to set up a trust

If you have a lot of assets and want to share them with the family while retaining some control, a trust might be the best option. Here's how trusts work and what they can do for you.

By Bryan Borzykowski

Every Canadian wants to retire with money, but some are lucky to have a lot more than others. For those with some wealth, how best to pass it on to the next generation -- without a big tax hit -- becomes a big issue. There are many strategies one can use to mitigate taxes and make sure children are looked after, but one option that's becoming more and more popular is a trust.

A trust is a legal arrangement where money is kept in an account and administered by a trustee. The person opening the trust, also known as the settlor, can dictate exactly how that money is administered. Gone are the days where trust funds were just for snooty socialites; now, anyone with a bit of cash to pass down can have one.

Here are five reasons to set up a trust.

1. See where your money goes
Most people pass down money through a will. What fun is that? You can't see how your money's used or the benefit it has on family members. Trusts can be set up for after death too, but for this story we're talking about inter-vivos trusts, or trusts that are created while the settlor is still alive.

2. Do whatever you want with the assets
One of the benefits of a trust is that the settlor can instruct how his or her money should be distributed. A gift, which is another way people pass down money, doesn't come with any strings attached, so the people receiving the money can do whatever they want with it. That works for some people, but not for others.

For instance, you might want to help fund a grandchild's education. You can set up the trust so that a certain amount of money is released before every school year, rather than at one time. Or, if you have a spendthrift kid, you can give them money from the trust at certain times of the year.

3. Avoid probate
Assets in a trust are not subject to after-death probate taxes. While the trust will have to pay capital gains tax on investments or property that gains in value (either every 21 years or when an asset is sold), no other taxes have to be paid when the settlor dies. This could save an estate a ton of money.

4. Pass down more than just money
While most trusts contain investments or cash, you can put pretty much anything in a trust. One common asset that gets the trust treatment is property, like a cottage. It's often an easier way to get kids to share a vacation home than by letting them figure out the details themselves. That's because you can dictate a set of instructions covering things such as who gets to use it when and how taxes and maintenance are covered. The trust will pay the expenses, either out of the trust itself or by having the trustee collect cash from the kids.

5. Keep your wealth a secret
When you die your will becomes public. Anyone can find out what assets you had and who got what. That, not surprisingly, irks a lot of people, especially Canadians who have a lot of money. A trust keeps all those details private. You can do whatever you want with your money and no prying eyes will ever find out.

With a lot of wealthy boomers about to retire, trusts are becoming more popular. Understandably, people want to protect their assets and get a chance to experience the benefits of their wealth. If this appeals to you, talk to a lawyer or bank -- they can set one up. You can also appoint any trustee you want, such as a family friend, a trusted coworker or even a trust company. Whoever it is, make sure you can, well, trust them with overseeing your assets.

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