What is a pourover trust?

A pourover trust is a way to plan for incapacity that allows a donor to set up a trust and act as the trustee, or manager, pourover trust terminates at the death of the donor or trustee, and all assets go back to the estate and must go through probate. Unlike a will, the pourover trust is not administered by a court, so its contents and terms are not part of the public record. For more legal information about pourover trusts and pour-over wills, use the free tool below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 1, 2021

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Not to be confused with pour-over wills, a pourover trust is simply a way to plan for incapacity. Unlike a will, the pourover trust is not administered by a court, so its contents and terms are not part of the public record. This type of trust allows a donor to set up a trust and act as trustee, or manager, during his or her life. Assets can be added to the trust during the trustee’s lifetime. Those assets stay in the trust until the trustee’s time of death. Sometimes, a person will name him or herself “co-trustee” with an investment firm or trust company.

How does a pourover trust work?

A pourover trust usually contains language that explains how the trust assets should be distributed when the donor becomes incapacitated or passes away. If the trustee is incapacitated but arranges to be co-trustee with another entity, such as a trust company or financial manager, the funds can be used to assist the trustee and can be distributed to his or her beneficiaries. One of the benefits of a pourover trust is that it alleviates some of the burdens on loved ones when the trustee is unable to care for him or herself.

The pourover trust terminates at the death of the donor or trustee and all assets go back to the estate and must go through probate. This is because any property, regardless of how it was held, that is transferred to beneficiaries upon a donor’s death must go through probate. This is the reason for the name “pour-over”; any leftover assets after attending to the donor’s incapacitated years are “poured” back into the estate. This makes the trust a great tool for planning for incapacity. For some families, the distribution of property can raise concerns about taxes. It’s important to consult with a tax attorney before setting up the pourover trust documents and again during the time leading up to the distribution of assets.

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What are some other concerns when considering a pourover trust?

In addition to being concerned about taxes, you should consider how or whether you will use the assets in the pourover trust when setting it up. You can continuously add to the trust during your lifetime or fund it and leave it as a shell. What are some disadvantages of these kinds of trusts? Unless incapacitated, you cannot receive or distribute assets from the pourover trust without revoking it. If you need a certain level of liquidity during the life of the trust, placing all or a substantial amount of valuable assets into the pourover trust may not be the best option.

As noted earlier, a pourover trust is a separate document from a will and is not administered with court supervision. That means that a pourover trust is not part of the public record. However, any assets that return to the estate will go through probate and be subject to the same rules as the rest of the estate. This is another area in which close consultation with an estate planning attorney can prevent any unwanted outcomes. An experienced attorney can help you with any questions and explain any formalities involved in the process of setting up pourover trusts.

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