A living trust is a tool for bypassing probate. By creating the trust and giving it ownership of your assets, you can have the trust transfer them to your heirs after your death. If you appoint yourself as trustee, you can also continue to manage and use the trust assets just as if you were still the legal owner. In some cases, you may want to amend the trust documents to appoint someone else as a co-trustee, who will share your authority over the trust.
Pick the person you want to serve as trustee. If you've just remarried, making your spouse a co-trustee will probably be necessary if you plan to add jointly owned assets to the trust. It will also enable your spouse to manage the assets if you're incapacitated. If your concern is the successor trustee -- the person who will administer the trust and pass the assets to your heirs after your death -- you need a co-trustee who will work well with the person you've already appointed.
Decide if you want your co-trustee to act independently of you. You can give your co-trustee or a successor co-trustee the ability to make and act on decisions about the trust assets on his own, or you can require all trustees make decisions together. If there are more than two trustees (perhaps you want your children, as successor trustees, to manage the assets together), you can allow them to act on majority vote too. You can also specify that some decisions should be handled by one trustee and some by another.
Obtain a trust amendment document that conforms to your state's laws and make the changes. It's possible to just scribble a note in the margin or elsewhere on the document, but that makes it too easy to create a change that could be misinterpreted. A formal trust amendment document -- available from websites that offer legal forms -- enables you to be clear and precise about the changes you want.
If you've set up an irrevocable trust, it will be difficult to make amendments once you've created it. Doing so usually requires the consent of all the beneficiaries and may need court approval as well.
It's important to have a will even if you set up a living trust. If you acquire assets and don't get around to transferring them to the trust before you die, the will tells your heirs how you want the property disposed of.
If your main concern is avoiding probate, check how long and expensive your state's probate system is. If your estate is simple and probate is streamlined enough, it might not be worth the effort to create a trust.
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.