Q: How do I go about getting my house into our trust? Do I need to contact the person who did the trust for us? Do I need to use the attorney that set up the trust? Do I even need an attorney to do this?
A: You should know that most estate planning attorneys that create a living trust for their clients have someone on staff that can prepare the documents needed to convey any real estate into the trust.
There are many types of trusts, but here’s some background on living trusts that might be helpful. When you decide to set up a trust to hold your assets, you are creating a vehicle to hold your assets both while you are alive and after you have passed. Once you set up the living trust, the trust is the actual owner of your assets. However, you get to direct what to do with the assets, almost as if they were in your own name.
Once the trust is set up, you have to take action to put all of your assets into the trust. It won’t happen automatically. For that you’d need to talk to your bank and other financial institutions to direct them to transfer your accounts from your personal name into the name of the trust. You’ll need a copy of the trust or the relevant information about the trust to give to the financial institutions.
It’s a bit trickier when you deal with your real estate. First of all, you have to prepare a deed to transfer the ownership of the home from your personal name into the name of the trust. Along with that, you might have to obtain other documents from municipal authorities and pay fees before you can file or record the transfer document. Finally, you’ll have to file or record the document with the office that handles real estate documents or filings where your property or properties are located.
Most homeowners do not have the knowledge to prepare the documents to transfer the ownership of the real estate. You can do it on your own, with or without the assistance of a real estate attorney, but if you get it wrong, it can be a nightmare to fix.
Back to your question. You can certainly hire the attorney that helped you set up the living trust. You just need to make sure that person has the real estate knowledge to prepare the documentation. If not, you certainly can hire a real estate attorney to help. The costs should not be expensive, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars, or more if the municipality fees are high for recording fees, exemption stamps and other expenses.
Again, if you believe you can do it, you can certainly try. If not for COVID-19, you could walk into the local recorder’s office and ask them if they’d look over your documents before you file. Frequently, they will be nice enough to let you know if you got things right.
Please understand this is not a guarantee that the people behind the desk are right or that your documents are correctly filled out. But these folks are often kind enough to assist the public or direct them where to go to correct their documents or find more information that can help them complete their paperwork.
(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through their website, bestmoneymoves.com.)