Revocable trust questions

In the rest of this Guide we use “revocable trust,” or “trust” as shorthand for “revocable trust.”

It’s important to know that some rules about trusts come from Texas law and other rules come from the trust agreement. Be sure to read the trust agreement, but keep in mind that Texas law also has rules about what you can and cannot do as trustee. For this Guide, we’ll pretend that you are a trustee of a trust set up for Rose’s benefit.

What is a revocable trust?

A revocable trust is a legal relationship between Rose and you, her trustee. Rose set up a revocable trust to give you the legal authority to make decisions about her money or property in the trust. The trust agreement or the trust instrument is the document that Rose used to set up the trust. Be sure to read the trust agreement when you become trustee.

Rose may have set up the trust because she wants to make sure that if she gets sick or injured, you can manage Rose’s money and property for her benefit. Rose also may have made the revocable trust to say who will get her money or property after she dies.

Can a revocable trust be changed or revoked?

There are different kinds of trusts. Some are revocable, meaning the trust can be changed or ended (revoked), and others are irrevocable, meaning that they generally cannot be changed. In Texas, a trust is revocable unless the trust agreement says otherwise.

As long as Rose can still make her own decisions and the terms of the trust allow her to do so, she can change or end (revoke) the revocable trust.

Who does what under a trust?

There are three roles under a revocable trust.

  • The person who makes the trust is called the settlor or grantor.
  • The person who makes decisions about the money or property in the revocable trust is called the trustee. A trustee can be an individual or a financial institution. If there is more than one, they are co-trustees. With co-trustees, you may need a majority of trustees to agree before you can act. A successor trustee or backup trustee may also be named. The successor trustee acts only if a trustee can no longer fulfill that role. Rose can name herself as trustee and you as co-trustee immediately, or you may be a successor trustee who can act when she can no longer make decisions.
  • A person who receives money or property from the revocable trust is called a beneficiary. Rose may be the only beneficiary while she is alive, or she may name co-beneficiaries who receive some money or property from the revocable trust before she dies. The people who receive money or benefits from the revocable trust after Rose dies are called residuary beneficiaries.

What property does a trustee manage?

The trustee has authority only over property actually transferred to the revocable trust and probably only after Rose has lost the capacity to manage her property. You do not have legal authority over any money or property that is not in the trust.

A trust is ineffective unless Rose puts her money or property into it. In Texas, Rose must switch ownership from her name to the name of the trustee who holds the property of the revocable trust on Rose’s behalf. When you are acting as trustee you will have the legal authority to spend and invest the money and property in the revocable trust for the benefit of Rose and any other beneficiaries.

Am I personally liable for Rose’s debts?

No, you are not personally liable for Rose’s debts or for decisions you make on her behalf unless you acted beyond your authority or did not disclose that you were acting as Rose’s agent.

Do I have to serve as Rose’s trustee?

No. You are not required to serve as a trustee. If you want to decline to serve or withdraw, you should consult a lawyer.

When do my responsibilities end?

If Rose names a new trustee or ends the trust, your authority and responsibilities end. However, you may still have to collect the trust’s records and give them to the new trustee or to Rose.

What if I think a change in the trust was a result of fraud or abuse?

If you think Rose does not understand the decision to take away your authority or end the trust, then talk to a lawyer, contact Adult Protective Services, or call the police or sheriff.

What about other types of trusts?

Other types of trusts exist and people have different reasons for making trusts. This Guide only covers revocable trusts.

Revocable trusts most likely have family or a friend as a trustee. Other types of trusts often have professional trustees, such as a lawyer or bank trust officer.

Don’t expect others to know what a trustee is or does.

Others may not understand that you have been named as a trustee. They may think that you have more authority or less authority than you really have. You may need to educate them. You could show them this Guide.

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