Should a Checking Account Be in a Revocable Trust?

You can still write checks and make deposits in a revocable trust account.

You can still write checks and make deposits in a revocable trust account.

Any assets you put into your revocable trust go to your heirs when you die, bypassing probate. To put checking or savings accounts into the trust, go down to your bank and fill out the institutional paperwork. You don't have to change the name on the checks. When you die, your successor trustee will assume control of the account and distribute the money to your heirs.

Pros and Cons

If your goal is to make sure your heirs can pay the bills after you die, putting the bank accounts into the trust gets the money to them faster. You can also bypass probate by making the account "payable on death" and naming one of your heirs as the beneficiary. This is as effective as putting it into the trust, but you can only pass the money to one person. If you name the trust as beneficiary, though, the trustee can divide the money among the beneficiaries.

Tax and Debt

If you want to minimize estate tax or keep your assets away from creditors, putting the checking account into a trust won't help you. Revocable trusts don't protect their assets from estate tax or from any creditors with claims on the estate. If your estate is under $5 million, it won't owe estate tax in any case. An irrevocable trust doesn't pay estate tax. If it's irrevocable, however, you can't control the accounts once the trust is set up.

Special Accounts

If the account is a joint checking account, all the money belongs to your co-owner -- your spouse, or parents, for example -- when you die. You don't need to transfer it to a living trust to get around probate. If the account is tied to your business, putting it and your company into the trust can be a smart move. That way, the successor trustee can pay the bills and keep your company running without waiting on probate. The trustee can also take over if you're incapacitated.

Paying the Bills

While you're alive, you serve as trustee of your own revocable trust. If you put a house into the trust, you can pay the mortgage from any bank account. Once your successor trustee takes over, she has to keep her own finances completely separate from the trust. If she needs to pay bills for the trust, having a checking account set up in the trust can help. However, she shouldn't keep all of the trust's cash in an account that doesn't pay interest.

About the Author

Author of two film reference books, "Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan" and "The Wizard of Oz Catalog." Published in Air & Space, Backpacker, Newsweek, The Writer, and multiple trade journals (can fax samples if requested, don't have them available digitally)

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