How do I set up a real estate trust?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How do I set up a real estate trust?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

First, let's be clear as possible about semantics, which have a funny way of changing the legal meaning of one thing to some completely different and sometimes unexpected animal.

A real estate investment trust, or REIT, is a tax designation for a corporation investing in real estate aimed at reducing or eliminating corporate income taxes. To get the tax advantage, REITs must distribute 90% of their income, which may be taxable to the investors. It is generally wise to hire an experienced lawyer to help set up a REIT, since such a trust may have repercussions for business plans and tax liability that are difficult to predict.

But I'm guessing that your question concerns something simpler: perhaps putting your parents' home or other real estate in a trust, such as a living trust, that will ensure that the title to it passes directly to the named beneficiaries when the person who made the trust dies. This is often a wise addition to a complete estate plan putting final affairs in order, as living trusts pass property automatically at death -- unlike wills, which usually must be processed through a probate curt, adding time and expense to the procedure.

Living trusts are not particularly difficult to set up. You can hire a lawyer for help -- or do it yourself, with the help of reputable books or software, if you are willing to do a bit of paperwork for the cause.