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Certificate of Trust: What is it and Why Do I Need It?

What is a Certificate of Trust? Learn how a Certificate of Trust document is used and how to get one with Trust & Will.

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Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

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A Living Trust is an important part of any Estate Plan. Trusts can be used for asset protection, tax benefits, to avoid probate and to set up loved ones for financial security in the future. But there's more than simply having a Trust - you also need to understand the Certificate of Trust. 

When the time comes and a Trust Cert is needed, the last thing you want to be dealing with is snags or hang ups. Keep reading to learn more about what a Certificate of Trust is, why you may need one, and most importantly, how to get one. 

What is a Certificate of Trust?

A Certification of Trust is a legal document that can be used to certify both the existence of a Trust, as well as to prove a Trustee’s legal authority to act. It’s shorter than the actual Trust document, and it can offer pertinent information without making every aspect of the Trust public.

A Trust Certification gives a Trustee the ability to provide anyone who needs it (think: financial institutions or other third parties) important information about the Trust - like the date it was formed, the legal/formal name of the Trust, who the Trustee is (or Trustees are) and other information institutions may require before allowing a Trustee to act.  

Appointing a Trustee

Whomever creates the Trust (known as the Grantor) appoints the Trustee or Trustees to manage it. If the Grantor doesn’t properly appoint a Trustee, or if a Trustee fails to live up to the expectations set forth by the Trust, the court may step in to appoint the next logical person to serve the role. 

The appointed Trustee is the legal owner of the title to the assets and property inside the Trust. As such, he or she has a legal responsibility to live up to what’s known as fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries. Acting in their best interest can mean many different things, depending on what the Trust itself defines. Trustees may be required to manage and administer assets in the Trust, record expenses, file taxes on income the Trust earns, distribute earnings or funds to beneficiaries, and more.  

Certificate of Trust Laws

While Trusts are valid and recognized in every state, there are no universal or standard laws pertaining to them. This means it’s vital to understand individual and specific state law regarding Trusts where you live. 

Particularly when it comes to what constitutes a Certificate of Trust, states can implement their own statutes. To be recognized as valid, a Certificate of Trust must follow proper guidelines according to the state the Grantor lives in.  

State-Specific Requirements

Not all states have statute sections on Certification of Trusts, but those that do follow. If you’re dealing with a Trust in any of the states below, and the Trust Certification complies with the state statute laid out, financial and other institutions must accept the certification or they may face legal and financial consequences.

  • Alabama - Ala. Code §§ 19-38-1013

  • Arizona - Ariz. Rev Stat. s § 14-11013

  • Arkansas - Ark. Rev. Stat. § 28-73-1013

  • California - Cal. Prob. Code § 18100.5

  • Delaware - 12 Del. Code Ann. § 3591

  • District of Columbia - D.C. Code Ann. § 19-1310.13

  • Florida - Fla. Stat. Ann. § 736.1017

  • Idaho - Idaho Code § 68-115

  • Iowa - Iowa Code § 633A.4604

  • Indiana - Ind. Code § 30-4-4-5

  • Kansas - Kan. Stat. Ann. § 58a-1013

  • Maine - Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 18-B, § 1013

  • Michigan - Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 565.432

  • Minnesota - Minn. Stat. § 501B.56

  • Mississippi - Miss. Code Ann. § 91-9-7

  • Missouri - Mo. Rev. Stat. § 456.10-1013

  • Nebraska - Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-38,102 and following

  • Nevada - Nev. Rev. Stat. § 164.410

  • New Hampshire - N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 564-B:10-1013

  • New Mexico - N.M. Stat. Ann. § 46A-10-1013

  • North Carolina - N.C. Gen. Stat. § 36C-10-1013

  • North Dakota - N.D. Cent. Code § 59-18-13

  • Ohio - Ohio Rev. Code § 5810.13

  • Oregon - Or. Rev. Stat. § 130.860

  • Pennsylvania - 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7790.3

  • Rhode Island - R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-4-27

  • South Carolina - S.C. Code Ann. § 62-7-1013

  • South Dakota - S.D. Cod. Laws Ann. § 55-4-42

  • Tennessee - Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-15-1013

  • Texas - Tex. Prop. Code § 114-086

  • Utah - Utah Code Ann. § 75-7-1013

  • Virginia - Va. Code § 55-550.13

  • West Virginia - W.Va. Code § 36-1-4a

  • Wyoming - Wyo. Stat. § 4-10-1014

How to Get a Certificate of Trust

Getting a Certificate of Trust means you’ll have an abbreviated version of the Trust on hand. The Trust Certification will essentially be an outline that contains all the important information about a Trust. To create it, you can either have an attorney draw up the paperwork for you, or, even better, you can use a legal or online estate planning service to do it. For Trust & Will members, we now provide a Certificate of Trust along with your Trust-Based Estate Plan so that you can feel completely confident in your documents.

It’s important to sign a Living Trust in front of a Notary Public. Keep in mind, if you have a Trust with a partner or spouse, you’ll both need to sign the Trust Certification for it to be valid. Once it’s signed and notarized, you should record it through your local county office. 

Don’t stress about finding a Notary Public. There are numerous places you can go, and according to the National Notary Association, some states now even allow you to sign remotely! You can typically find a Notary Public at any of the following establishments:

  • American Automobile Association (AAA)

  • Banks or other financial institutions

  • Colleges

  • Law offices

  • Libraries

  • License service centers

  • Parcel shipping stores (like UPS)

  • Photocopy shops (like FedEx)

  • Real estate offices

  • Tax Preparer or Accountant Offices

Certificate of Trust: Commonly Asked Questions

Who can sign the Certificate of Trust?

Generally speaking, only the Grantor (the Trust creator) can legally sign a Certificate of Trust. The only exception to this is if you have had a lawyer create the original Trust document. In this case, he or she may also sign the Trust Certificate.

How often do I need to update the Certificate of Trust?

There are times when you may need to update your Certificate of Trust. It could become necessary if a Trustee passes, or if your Trust hasn’t been updated in a number of years and many things have changed. Another reason you may need to update your Trust Certificate is if the Trust will be buying and/or selling any property or real estate.

Does a Certificate of Trust need to be recorded?

A Certificate of Trust may need to be recorded in the county that any real property is in. That said, if there’s no real property owned by the Trust, there may not be any need to record it.  

Conclusion

Owning a Trust can be a really smart move - especially if your goal is to protect your assets, your loved ones and your legacy. But don’t let all of the hard work you put into creating a solid Estate Plan fall flat because you didn’t do the little things that help everyone involved, like creating a Certificate of Trust. 

Want to learn more about how easy it is to establish a Trust? Find out how Trust & Will makes creating a Trust (and your Certificate of Trust) easy, fast and affordable. 

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