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What is a Trust Fund?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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A trust fund is a financial tool that holds and administers assets for the benefit of another person or organization, called a beneficiary. The initial assets for the fund are provided by a grantor or donor, and a trustee or team of trustees manages the funds according to that person's instructions. The beneficiary receives payment from the fund as a lump sum or in periodic installments, according to the terms of the trust. Trust funds are often used to set aside property, investments, or cash assets to provide for people who are unable to manage their finances for themselves, like children or people who are ill. People can even establish one for themselves, under the assumption that they will become unable to manage their personal finances sometime in the future.

Types of Trusts

There are two main types of trust funds — living and testamentary — that differ mainly in terms of how and when they are set up. The first is established during the lifetime of the grantor and may be revocable, meaning that it's possible to set up the trust in such a way that it can be changed or dissolved by the grantor. The second is set forth in a will, and is always irrevocable, since the grantor is dead and therefore can't change or dissolve the trust.

Funds established to lessen or avoid tax liability usually cannot be changed either. For example, some jurisdictions limit the amount of assets that can be given as a gift without being taxed. People can avoid this limit by establishing an irrevocable trust fund giving the assets to a beneficiary. Though that person will eventually have to pay taxes on the assets when he or she gets paid, this can be deferred for a long time. This strategy is also sometimes used to shield life insurance benefits from estate taxes.

The structure and procedure for establishing a trust fund varies greatly depending on why it was set up. Some are set up so that the trustee can use the assets to benefit the beneficiary, but the beneficiary can't access the funds him or herself. Others can only be used to benefit a designated group, class, or organization. A unit trust is set up in such a way that multiple beneficiaries hold shares in it, and they can then have the trustee pay them according to how many shares they hold. There are many other different types of trust funds as well, and each is structured slightly differently.

Setting Up a Trust Fund

Laws regulating trusts vary by jurisdiction, so anyone wanting to set one up should see a lawyer. With a living trust, all of the assets have to be transferred before the grantor dies or the trust is void, and the assets will be disposed of by the government in accordance with probate laws. Any of the grantor's assets not assigned to the fund can usually only be transferred to it after he or she dies if there is a clause specifying this in the person's will. Testamentary trusts are established after the death of the grantor as specified by the terms of his or her will. In this situation, a probate court will oversee the trustee as he or she manages the fund, and can act as a trustee if one isn't named.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Trusts have many advantages, since they're flexible enough to allow the grantor to tailor one to his or her needs, can be used to defer taxes, and are quite private. They are also generally a safe way to provide for beneficiaries after the grantor is dead and can save them the hassle and fees that are often the result of dealing with the grantor's assets. Despite this, they are not the best choice for every situation. Grantors can get into trouble if they try to use the assets without consulting with the trustees and beneficiaries, and trustees generally charge for their management services, which can be expensive. Also, depending on the set up, the trustee may not have a lot of supervision, and may do a poor job managing the assets.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including SmartCapitalMind, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments
By anon348292 — On Sep 15, 2013

If there are three people in a trust - for example, my father-in-law has a one third stake in this house to be shared with his brother and sister - and one of them is the power of attorney for the living executor, can they change the will of the person who has lost their ability to make their own judgment? Or is everyone in the trust protected from that kind of shadiness?

By anon342120 — On Jul 17, 2013

What about a legal trust that has been established for more than 19 years no one has ever contacted the beneficiary for a payment of annuity or other payment? Can the recipient find out all their rights online?

By amypollick — On May 17, 2013

@kristin1219: You need an attorney well versed in financial law, trusts and so forth. An attorney can get a judge to subpoena the trust records and all the pertinent paperwork, including the contracts and licenses for your husband's business.

It sounds like this man is counting on you not knowing anything about how a trust is administered. In my opinion, if he were an honest man, he would tell you everything you wanted to know. Honest people have nothing to hide. Dishonest people profit from others not knowing what is going on. Get an attorney. I know they're expensive, but a good one will work with you.

By kristin1219 — On May 17, 2013

I am the mother and guardian of my 13 year old son. I was never married to his father, but we lived together with my son for over 15 years until he passed last year.

A trust fund was set up for my son by his father, with his brother in charge of the trust. My son and I have been asking how much was in the trust but he refused to tell us anything.

The problem that I am having is that my son's father left about 10 buildings that have rental apartments in them and one fourth of the rent collected is supposed to go to my son, but we are not sure if that money is going into the trust.

I guess my question is: Do my son and I have the right to know what is in the trust and how it is being managed? If he won't tell my son, do I have the right to know as his mother? We know that money is being taken out monthly and given to us to live on. It is about $800. My son's dad also left a business behind and his brother said that he sold it to him before he passed, but he could not provide any paperwork concerning the sale.

I just do not want my son to be cheated out of something that is rightfully his. I am very concerned because we are not getting any answers.

By kmhums — On Apr 27, 2013

Can you please tell me the laws for the following trust fund property? My mother passed away and one of my brothers was living with her, but he did not work. She supported him and he is 54 years old. After she passed I asked him to please move out within six months so we could sell the house. I am the sole executor of her trust fund.

I was paying all the utilities and taxes on the house, and he paid me nothing. Can I charge him rent plus all bills that I paid while he was living in the home?

I finally had to literally move him out myself and he destroyed the house to the extend that I lost $25,000 on the home when I finally sold it.

He is now threatening me for money, saying he took care of my mom and he is owed. The trust fund has not been distributed yet. I feel that I must get a lawyer for this. Please help.

By anon327321 — On Mar 27, 2013

My mother left a trust fund for my nephew (her grandson). He is 21 and his living mother refuses to give it to him. We are afraid that she has spent it. Is there any way we can obtain the trust fund on his behalf?

By anon318991 — On Feb 10, 2013

I don't have a question. I have a statement to make. If you're thinking of setting up a will, trust fund, or power of attorney, please don't discuss these matters with just one of your children. Sit down and explain it to your whole family. It puts a horrible strain on siblings who are appointed as executors, executrixes, trustees, or agents as equally as it does to the siblings who were not informed of their parents' intentions. Thank you for listening.

By anon315237 — On Jan 23, 2013

Scenario: A woman who is married is about to be divorced. Can the husband she's divorcing make any claims against, or take the funds from, a trust fund that is established for her institutionalized mother?

By amypollick — On Jun 23, 2012

@reedchar: This is a scam. Please do not have any further contact with this person, or you risk losing your money and your identity. These kinds of e-mails are always, always scams.

By reedchar — On Jun 23, 2012

A woman said she put my name down with a global security company in Nigeria as the heir of x amount of dollars to be received by me to carry out a request for her. Should I be worried about this and if so, who should I contact to make sure this is legal.

By lisasimms — On Feb 24, 2012

My son had a very bad accident when he was 15 and received a trust fund. The company that originally had the trust 13 years ago sold it to another company and we are not pleased with they way they are handling it. He has continued to lose money since this other company took it over two years ago. I am the "Special Trustee" and my son wants to move his trust to another company, so our question is, How can we move his trust to the company of his choice?

By smith1234 — On Jan 30, 2012

My gran died, leaving her son in the house she owned, stating on his death the house should be sold and split between the remaining siblings. He now has died but in his will he left the house to only two of his sisters. Can he do this if he does not own the house?

By canshereally — On Jan 26, 2012

My son was left a trust when my mother in law died in 2000 for 34K, and my sister in law is the custodian.

I recently contacted the firm where the trust was, dean wittier, because my son is now in high school and we want to see how much he will have for college.

They told me my sister in law closed that account and they don't know what she did with it. She is not involved in my son's life. Can she do that? What should I do?

By anon242752 — On Jan 24, 2012

If I establish a trust fund for my children, am I allowed to take any money out for myself?

By anon242547 — On Jan 24, 2012

A few years ago, I was in an accident with a mini bus. My mother, my sister and I were all in the car and as a result, we all received compensation.

I was only 15 at the time, so the money was put in a trust fund until I came of age. I have just recently turned 18 and so can now legally access the compensation. However I am not very sure as to how to go about this. Any help?

By anon235915 — On Dec 20, 2011

How do I go about obtaining information about my trust if my parents whom I'm currently living with won't give me any information? My grandmother who passed away is the one who set up the trust and I know for a fact I'm allowed access to my account, but again, have no idea how to obtain any info.

By anon232863 — On Dec 02, 2011

My sister is the trustee, and she recently informed me that she paid off the mortgage on the house I'm at now.

It stated in the will that I can live here until my passing. So back to her telling me she paid if off. I'm wondering what it means when she says that my portion will come out within the Trust. Does this mean I still have money that was in the Trust and that will be used to pay off my portion, not including the money I received a while back?

I need help. This is confusing.

By anon224735 — On Oct 24, 2011

If a trust fund for a certain amount of money, on the sale of a house, has been set up for you, can the person who has set up the fund take the money out of the fund and use it to pay off some of their debts?

By anon214342 — On Sep 14, 2011

I have a well-to-do aunt who recently passed away in California. She comes from a large family and had had a will leaving her possessions/money to her family.

In January 2011, she suffered a severe fall, eventually succumbing to injuries from the fall. While recuperating, members of her church somehow managed to manipulate her will into some type of fantastic trust which leaves all her possessions to one woman (not a member of the family).

What is the family's recourse to have the will reinstated and the trust voided? Also, what about restitution and criminal charges against this woman?

By anon211160 — On Sep 01, 2011

I lived in Little Rock, Ark when I broke my leg at a daycare and was awarded money which was placed into a trust fund. I now live in California, I'm 36 years old and has never received any money. Can you tell me where I would begin to search to find this money?

By anon188989 — On Jun 22, 2011

my son was hit by a vehicle and was awarded $30,000. He was 4 at the time. My wife and I were going through a divorce. we both were entitled to compensation for lost wages, pain, suffering and she filed a claim on my behalf and was awarded $17,000 to be split between us. i never got a dime and didn't even know about the money until four years later. how can i get what i deserve and find where my son's money is? his mom is in jail now, but before she went, somehow she got $8,000 dollars of my son's trust fund and blew it on drugs.

By anon170070 — On Apr 24, 2011

How do I find out what i will receive in a Trust Fund? My family has a trust, my brother is the Trustee, and we do receive around 5,000 a year, but my Mom is still alive, so how can I find out what i might get in this trust. Am I privy to any information from the Trustee?

By Butterfly15 — On Apr 22, 2011

I was wondering how to find out information about a trust that my family tells me that was set up for me from a car accident that my mother was in when I was little. I don't know the year it happened and my parents won't tell me anything about it but all my family says it's there. Is someone supposed to contact me when I become whatever age it was set up for me to get it, or how does that work?

By anon161850 — On Mar 21, 2011

I recently spoke with a relative. And when we spoke about her husband's business she stated that her husband has a trust fund. And her car and her husband's car are under a trust fund. What are the benefits of having a trust fund and putting your property in it.

By anon156856 — On Feb 28, 2011

Is there such a thing as a trust fund for someone who is dead?

By anon152793 — On Feb 15, 2011

My mother set up a trust fund for my son and put my aunt in charge. My son is now 21- the trust was started in 1994. I cannot get a hold of my aunt and my son wants to transfer the trust to another account. My question is: I have no idea where the fund was set up. I think it was Vanguard but how do I find out where this money is?

By anon134783 — On Dec 16, 2010

My mother is on disability and received an inheritance from my grandmother. Can my mom put the money in a trust for me without the government taking away her funds?

By anon126608 — On Nov 13, 2010

I have a serious question for you. If I am a resident of Maryland and have a trust fund, and I decide not to have a trust fund here and I want to move to Virginia and a job offering there, then what will I do with that if I were in your shoes? Answer soon. --


By anon124593 — On Nov 06, 2010

my grandmother passed away three years ago and she left me some money but my dad put it in a trust fund. but now me and my dad don't talk but i just turned 18. how can i get my money or how can i find out what bank it is at? someone please help me.

By anon123308 — On Nov 01, 2010

My grandfather set up a trust for my grandmother, set up to pass to my mother when she died, and to my sister and i when my mother died.

The trust had a few million dollars while my grandmother was alive, and the trust paid all of her bills, including medical, household, and buying her health and life insurance over and above her medicare.

When the trust passed to my mom, it had about $800,000 in it. i told the trust officers that my mom had been in bad health with severe diabetes untreated for over 10 years, and suggested they buy her health insurance. the trust declined. 10 years later, as the trust was almost completely decimated by her heart disease and repeated hospitalizations, the new trust officer suggested that the trust would buy my mom health insurance, to mitigate the depletion. I got a few quotes, but the trust did not buy my mom insurance.

mom qualified for medicare a month after a huge heart attack, and had medicare for the last two years of her life, but the trust was depleted down to about $50,000 and was no longer able to pay any medical bills for her (just her rent and pharmacy bills).

my mom actually stopped taking her Rx and five months later, died. i think she was afraid of the trust running out.

my sister and i are now considering suing the trust officers, on the grounds that if they had been fiscally responsible, they should've purchased health insurance for her 13 years ago. it would've left much more funds in the trust, and might've encouraged her to continue going to doctors and taking her Rx as prescribed. any thoughts?

By anon116626 — On Oct 07, 2010

I am 34 and I have a 10 year old daughter. My mother and step-dad are about to become very wealthy with a very large investment that will allow them to set up a trust for me, my daughter, buy us a house, and a new car. I am not sure I understand how a trust works for me. how much money will I get and how often?

By anon109246 — On Sep 06, 2010

my husband is 28 he's told me he is getting 12,000 from his trust fund but his dad is in thailand and his nan's in hartlepool and we're in london but he said it can be in his account in one week with just one phone call. is he lying as we could lose our house in five days if we don't have it?

By anon103116 — On Aug 10, 2010

my dad set a trust fund for all of us but i am broke and I'm 44 years old and my dad will not help me financial;y even though i paid tax for six years on the trust with my ex husband. But for the last 10 years i did not pay tax. can i get my trust fund as he told me because i did not pay tax for the last 10 years? my amount is being decreased by 70 percent. what should i do to get the balance?

By anon96269 — On Jul 15, 2010

What is the difference between a trust and a will? Is my marriage contract affected?

By anon90444 — On Jun 16, 2010

My husband who is working abroad made two individual trust funds in a bank book. then later it become dormant. Later this summer he asked for it and continued the account abroad. Is that ITF to be on the hands of my kids when he dies only?

I hope my children can have it now because they are attending classes and needs money to continue schooling. Can I ask him to have the ITF in their hands now that they are matured enough and not of minor age? uv

By anon86205 — On May 24, 2010

99 percent of these questions are answered in the article. Read it.

By anon79964 — On Apr 25, 2010

Can more than one person draw money from the same trust fund?

By anon76096 — On Apr 08, 2010

my mother left me her home in her will and then she got sick and now she was going to sign the property over to me until attorney said they would take away my disability. Now she is leaving it in a trust fund and I do not know how that works. Anyone know?

By anon75985 — On Apr 08, 2010

can I have a trust and still receive Aids and Attendance pension benefit with the VA?

By anon74436 — On Apr 02, 2010

I have recently discovered that my name is on my sister's family's trust fund. I am 46. I have never received a penny from the fund until this year when they wrote a check for $1000 to help me cover some expenses. I had no knowledge of being named on this fund until the day I unexpectedly received this check.

Do I have any rights as a person named on the fund? Can I make someone remove my name? (The reason I would want my name removed is because my sister has a way of screwing things up and I try to keep her out of my business). Any advice would be appreciated. I am broke and in over my head with debt right now. The last thing I need is a sister who is screwing around with my life (because it doesn't look like there is another check coming my way any time soon).

By anon73419 — On Mar 27, 2010

My grandfather recently passed away. He apparently set a trust fund up for me. I was just weeks away from finishing a bankruptcy case, my husband cannot find work and by July our money will have run out. Would this situation allow me access to the trust fund?

By anon73074 — On Mar 25, 2010

I was told that my sons had a trust fund set up for them that they would get when they turned 25. I do not know the name of the attorney they set it up with. My oldest is now 25 and his aunt said that there was no trust fund. How do I find if there is one? I called the county and there is none filed with the probate court.

By arm21 — On Mar 03, 2010

My two daughters had an account set up when they were born. The money was set up by the late great-grandma. Their aunt was listed as a trustee. The girls' names are also on the account. They are now 20 and 21 and want to get their money, however their aunt is providing no information and won't give up the money. How do they get their money?

By anon67451 — On Feb 24, 2010

I just got out of the lawyer's office who's dealing with my mortgage company and he said to me that I need to open a trust fund on his name so the bank can see that I got a job and i can make my mortgage payments.

please advise. I don't now what to do. Trust him or not?

By anon66548 — On Feb 20, 2010

How do I know the trust funds my late dad set up for me and my sister are running properly? I am 24 and have not heard anything of them (my sister believes they are mismanaging her capital, i have no idea) and what can I do if this is the case?

I feel I may be stuck in an ignorant position with the trustees feeding off our trust and keeping it alive purely for their own use?

By anon65146 — On Feb 11, 2010

i was told when i was younger that me and my two sisters were in a trust fund left by my nanna. how can we find out if we were?

By anon63479 — On Feb 01, 2010

I have a brother doing 25 to life and is up for board 2/2011. A lawyer that I have talked to, to take his case asked the family to start a trust fund for him for the fee. Can we do that and how do we start or go about on doing that?

By anon62673 — On Jan 27, 2010

my mother passed away and my sister said she had a trust. how can i find if she did or not.

By cyncee — On Jan 26, 2010

I just found out that my grandfather left a trust fund for his grandchildren when he died 40 years ago. My grandmother is the trustee and she issued funds from the trust fund to pay legal/tax issues for my uncle many years ago (I don't remember how long ago) and that recently grandmother has been issuing funds to my aunt to cover living expenses. Since my aunt and uncle were not his grandchildren, how can funds be distributed to them?

By anon59554 — On Jan 09, 2010

can any bank open up a simple trust fund without the use of an attorney?

By anon54689 — On Dec 01, 2009

I was told that I have a trust fund form a family member. How can I find out any information on this.

By anon54358 — On Nov 29, 2009

my grandfather passed away three months ago.

my grandfather left a trust fund and my step grandmother is not telling me and my two uncles, who are my grandfather's sons and my father who is deceased.

i am included in the trust fund but my step grandmother will not tell us what is in the trust fund and what it all includes.

She keeps telling my uncles that she has up to three months before she can tell us anything. Well, it has been three months. What shall we do to find out what is included in the trust fund?

By anon50146 — On Oct 26, 2009

i have a friend who wants to leave me money and wants a trust fund set up. How do I do this?

By anon42565 — On Aug 22, 2009

I won a bunch of money in the lotto and would like to give part of it to my kids.

What is the best way to give it to them?

I understand i have to pay a gift tax but do they have to pay an income tax on it?

Or what is the best way to get it to them?

By anon41245 — On Aug 13, 2009

Can a person borrow money from a bank using a trust fund as collateral?

By anon40700 — On Aug 10, 2009

how do I find out if my mom had a trust fund? I'm dealing with her death and my stepfather. I don't think I'm being told everything

By n2chat — On Jul 28, 2009

mgarrow09. You need a lawyer, and if you can't afford one there are those who will work for free for poor people. Do *not* tell anyone about the money if you get that trust fund. Naturally, if it is substantial, you will probably have to pay the lawyer, and you should. Good luck!

By anon34142 — On Jun 17, 2009

anon33925, it's illegal for anyone to be denied insurance coverage due to receiving any type of transplant.

By anon33925 — On Jun 14, 2009

I have a friend who is twelve. She has had both a kidney and liver transplant and cannot get health insurance through any insurance company. There is a health program she can get into but the premiums are $2000 a month.

Is there a way to setup a trust fund that people can contribute only to her medical care? Can we make tax deductible contributions in her case?

By anon30630 — On Apr 22, 2009

When I was 5 my grandparents started a trust fund for me. I am turning 18 in two weeks and would like to know how to get my trust fund. I haven't talked or had any contact with them for a year now. I don't speak to my dad who lives on the east coast and I live on the west coast. My dad is their son and we do not get along at all and had some very bad issues and fights that have not been resolved from a year ago.

Is it possible for my grandparents to take the money away that they've been saving in my trust fund all these years?

By mgarrow09 — On Jan 15, 2009

well, i was adopted when i was like 3 months old from Tuscan, Arizonia. im currently living in skaneatleles ny. i was told i received a trust fund from my real grandparents. my adoptive mother tells me she thinks my real mom got into it. i am 18 now and currently have no place to live and nowhere to turn. it would help a lot to receive that trust but i have no idea how to find out about it. any help?

By anon24538 — On Jan 13, 2009

What is the difference between a trust and a will?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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