A living trust can be an important part of an estate plan, allowing assets to pass directly to named beneficiaries without having to go through a court-administered probate process. Many assets can be included in the trust, such as real estate, vehicles and bank accounts. But 401(k)s, IRAs and some other retirement accounts cannot be placed in a trust.
401(k) Ownership and Trusts
401(k)s must be owned by individuals, not trusts, businesses or other entities. Thus, you cannot place your 401(k) into your living trust even though you can put other assets into the trust's name. Creating a living trust does not automatically place any of your assets into the trust. You must place your assets into the trust's name by changing the title documents or other ownership papers. However, typically, you cannot change your 401(k)'s ownership, since only individuals can own 401(k) accounts.
Giving a 401(k)
Though you cannot put your 401(k) into your trust, you can leave it to someone when you die. Generally, you can select a beneficiary when you set up the account by listing your beneficiary's name on the paperwork that establishes the account. You can also change your beneficiary, typically by completing a beneficiary change form with the company that manages your account. At the time of your death, your beneficiary inherits your account.
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