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Do Trusts Expire? Find Out

Don’t know if trusts expire? Find out everything you need to know with this comprehensive guide

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How long do trusts last? It depends — which is why we asked Patrick Hicks, Head of Legal at Trust & Will, to help us understand what happens to trusts over time.

“Most trusts eventually come to a conclusion and wind down,” Hicks explained. ”When all of the assets are paid out to the beneficiaries, the trust will terminate.”

In most cases, trusts end after their assets are fully distributed — but what about trusts that never pay out their assets? Will those trusts eventually reach an expiration date? Do trusts expire?

“There is an outer limit on how long a trust can last,” Hicks told us, “but it is rarely relevant. In practicality, almost all trusts last until their assets are passed to beneficiaries.”

Haven Life Plus, the no-cost bonus life insurance rider available to eligible Haven Life customers, gives you the opportunity to create one individual or couples trust, will or guardian plan through Trust & Will, at no cost. That’s a value of up to $699.

And because Trust & Will’s easy online service allows you to set up these documents in minutes, you can quickly take the extra step needed to create your first will, protect your estate from the costs of probate or develop a guardianship plan for your children.

“A trust gives you more control over when and how assets are distributed after death,” Hicks explains. It’s also one more way to ensure peace of mind, manage your finances and prepare for the future. If you decide to create a revocable living trust through Trust & Will, here’s what you need to know about how long your trust will last.

In this article:

Do trusts expire?

Do trusts expire? Not necessarily.

“Trusts generally do not have an expiration date in the sense of automatically terminating at some fixed point in time,” Hicks explains. “In fact, trusts are often used in situations where it is beneficial to have the trust remain in effect for an extended, potentially indefinite period of time.”

These kinds of perpetual trusts include dynasty trusts, which are designed to help families manage generational wealth, as well as a few other types of irrevocable trusts. Since most families can manage their estate with a revocable living trust, they don’t need to worry about any of the issues that might come with managing a trust in perpetuity — and they won’t have to worry about whether their trust might expire.

Why do trusts not have an expiration date?

In most cases, trusts are not written with a designated expiration date. In fact, it is very uncommon for an expiration date to be included in a trust.

“Generally, trusts exist for a specific purpose and will be designed to remain in effect as long as necessary to serve that purpose,” says Hicks. “Having an expiration date generally would not help achieve that purpose — instead, the expiration date would cut short the trust and limit its ability to achieve the purpose.”

Most revocable living trusts, for example, are designed to transfer assets to designated beneficiaries after a person’s death. In some cases, these assets are transferred right away. In other cases, the assets may be held until the beneficiaries turn 18, 21 or 25. Once the trust has completed its purpose and the assets are fully distributed, the trust ends naturally.

Some families may choose to set up trusts with a specific purpose, such as a special needs trust, that allow them to distribute assets to a beneficiary over a longer period of time. Although these kinds of trusts may take longer to complete their purpose, these trusts also end after their assets have been fully distributed.

This is why there’s no single answer to the question of how long trusts last. A trust lasts until it has fulfilled its purpose, whether it distributes its assets in a lump sum, holds its assets until its beneficiaries become legal adults or makes multiple payments to beneficiaries over a designated period of time.

What happens to assets in a trust when the trust ends?

In nearly all cases, trusts end when their assets are paid out. This means there are no assets left in a trust after it ends — instead, all of the trust’s assets have been successfully distributed to the named beneficiaries.

“Generally, assets are paid out to the beneficiaries of the trust when the trust ends,” Hicks explains. “This is true whether the trust ends because the assets are all paid out, which is more common, or if the assets are paid out because the trust is scheduled to end, which is less common.”

If a trust is scheduled to terminate before its assets are fully paid out, the final phase of asset distribution could become more complicated. “There could be some uncertainty as to which assets pass to which beneficiaries if the trust terminates,” Hicks told us. “This might be resolved through the trust document or it might be necessary to involve a court to instruct what should happen.”

What happens if a trust does not distribute its assets?

It is possible, though rare, for a trust to terminate before its assets are completely distributed. This is often what people are referring to when they ask “Do trusts expire?” However, this kind of situation is extremely uncommon — and unlikely to affect your estate plan.

“The Rule Against Perpetuities says that an interest in property must completely transfer within 21 years from a person in being,” Hicks explains. “This essentially means that you can’t hold property in limbo for more than 21 years after the death of a person now alive.”

This is why you might see people claim that trusts expire after 21 years. While this is technically true, very few trusts ever run the risk of hitting the 21-year limit.

“The vast majority of trusts come to their own natural conclusion,” says Hicks, “paying out their assets without encountering the Rule Against Perpetuities.”

Why is it important to set up a trust in addition to a will?

If you’re trying to decide between a will and a trust, you might want to go ahead and create both. We’ll let Hicks explain why.

“Wills are generally more simple documents that specify where assets go at death. Trusts often include more specification as to when assets can be distributed. For example, a trust might provide that assets be held in the trust for the beneficiary until they reach a specified age or achieve a specified goal, such as graduating college or getting married. A trust gives more control over what happens after death than would generally be found with a will.”

There’s one more reason to set up a trust in addition to a will — and that’s to eliminate the time and expense that can come with the probate process. “Wills go through probate, which is often expensive and slow,” Hicks explains. “Having a trust is an easy way to avoid this process and create a nearly seamless transfer of assets.”

Consider it one more gift that you can pass along to your loved ones.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate,, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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