October 12, 2022

What happens to a Joint Trust when one spouse dies?

For Joint Revocable Living Trusts formed by married couples, minimal changes occur (regarding the Trust) upon the death of the first spouse. However, the changes are significant upon the surviving spouse’s death.

When a married couple creates a standard Revocable Living Trust (RLT), they typically act as the:

1. Joint Settlors (creators of the Trust).

2. Joint Trustees (managers of the Trust).

3. Joint Beneficiaries (recipients of Trust’s benefits/gains).

The surviving spouse is the sole Settlor/Trustee/Beneficiary if one dies. In short, nothing changes.

The surviving spouse manages the Trust and its assets as they see fit. For example, if the surviving spouse desires to, they can amend the Trust, add or remove assets, change future beneficiaries, etc.

Only upon the death of the last surviving spouse do any significant changes occur.

Once both spouses are dead, the Trust becomes irrevocable. As a result, the language of the Trust is set in stone and no longer amendable. Likewise, whatever assets are/or are not in the Trust remain so (however, a Pour-over Will can still gift assets to the Trust after those assets have first gone through Probate Administration). The Successor Trustee steps in to fulfill the instructions described in the Trust document.

*Trusts are highly customizable documents. Therefore, some of these features are not universal to all Trusts.


This article represents the opinion of the author and is intended for educational purposes. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. One should always consult with an experienced attorney before making estate planning decisions.

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