Revising a living trust is a relatively straightforward, uncomplicated process as long as your trust is revocable. Unlike irrevocable living trusts, which can be difficult to change, revocable trusts are flexible estate planning documents that allow you to add and remove property as often as you wish. When you're ready to make modifications, the size and scope of your changes will dictate the most appropriate method for making revisions.
While it might be tempting to simply cross out the old terms and write the new information directly on the trust document, so-called "margin notations" can cause confusion and raise concerns about the legitimacy of the changes. Your heirs might doubt your intentions if you forget to make identical notations on each copy of the trust. Handwritten changes can also be difficult to read; this can lead to disputes over the trust maker's wishes.
A trust amendment is appropriate for relatively minor changes. Rather than pulling out a page here and there whenever you want to make a change, a trust amendment allows you to make all changes on a single sheet of paper and attach it to the back of the trust document. Common reasons for trust amendments include adding new beneficiaries, substituting trustees and changing the way assets are distributed. If you decide to amend your trust, make sure all changes are clearly explained, then sign and date the amendment the same way you executed the original trust.
If you've already amended your trust a number of times or need to make a major change, a trust restatement might be a better option. Unlike an amendment, a trust restatement replaces the entire trust document, preserving the original date and terms while incorporating any changes. Trust restatements are appropriate when the trust maker needs to replace entire sections or when the trust needs to be rewritten to conform to changes in the law.
If your amendment or restatement added new property to the trust, you must transfer these assets into the trust's name. Because trusts are designed to keep estates out of probate, it's important to ensure yours is properly funded -- especially if you make revisions. Real estate can be retitled simply by recording a new deed in the name of the trust. Assets such as bank and brokerage accounts can be retitled by changing the ownership registration.
- Law Offices of Merwyn J. Miller: How Not to Change a Trust
- American Bar Association: Changing Your Mind: Changing, Adding To, Revoking Your Will or Trust
- Levine & Furman, LLC: Trust Amendment vs. Trust Restatement
- American Bar Association: Living Trusts
- Pivotal Law Group: How to Fund Your Revocable Living Trust
- Robinson Bradshaw: Trust Me, Your Irrevocable Trust is Modifiable
A.M. Hill has been a licensed attorney since 2004. Her practice areas include family law and divorce, probate and estate planning and bankruptcy. Hill holds a Juris Doctor from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.