Creating a living trust is fairly simple. The trust declaration must name you as the trust creator, along with the trustee (even if it's you), the beneficiary, and the successor trustee who takes over when you die. The declaration also spells out how your successor should distribute the assets. All that remains is to have the declaration notarized, and then you can transfer assets to the trust.
You transfer a house to your trust with a deed, just as if the trust were a buyer. On the deed, you identify yourself as the owner and indicate that you're giving title to the trust. Every state requires that you sign the deed and get it notarized, but some states also require witnesses. You can ask the county registry of deeds for advice on the form, or look at the paperwork on your original deed. Once the notary affixes her seal to the deed, file the deed with the county offices.
Another way to put assets in a trust is to write a "pour-over' will. This is a will that states all the property still in your estate when you die passes to your trust. Pour-over wills don't bypass probate, but they simplify disposal of the assets: There's only one document, instead of two, declaring who inherits everything. Transferring real estate while you're alive is better, but you wouldn't be the first trust creator who never got around to adding new assets to the trust.
Trusts and Mortgages
If you face foreclosure, some scam artist may offer to put the house in a trust for you — for a price — to keep it out of the bank's grasp. Don't be fooled: There's no method for putting a house in the trust that prevents a lender from collecting on the mortgage debt. Even if you create an irrevocable trust (in which you give up control over the assets), the lender still has the right to get paid. A trust can't save you from mortgage default.
You and Your Spouse
If your spouse's name is on the deed, the rules change: You can't transfer ownership to the trust unless she signs the deed as a co-owner. Transferring to a trust with you as the trustee would give you full control of the property, so many couples prefer creating a shared trust for their jointly owned property. Another option, if most of your property is separate, is to create two trusts and transfer your respective ownerships into each trust separately.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.