What is a certificate of trust?

A trust certificate is a shortened version of your trust document

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Elissa SuhSenior Editor & Disability Insurance ExpertElissa Suh is a disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius, where she also covered wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

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Key takeaways

  • For transactions, a trust certificate can often be used instead of an entire trust agreement and doesn't reveal the trust beneficiary

  • You can create your own certificate of trust by following the requirements set by your state law

A certificate of trust is a document that summarizes the details of a trust. The trust certificate is typically given to third parties, like a financial institution, during a transaction as proof of the trust’s existence and its authority over trust property. Once you have opened a trust, it’s fairly easy to write up the certificate, which is also known as a trust certification, memorandum of trust, or abstract of trust.

The benefit of a trust certificate is that it keeps details of the trust instrument (trust document), like the name of a beneficiary, shielded from public knowledge. The privacy of a trust is one reason why you might consider opening one as part of your estate plan.

What is a certificate of trust and do I need one?

A certificate of trust is an abbreviated version of a trust agreement and only contains information about the trust that are relevant to the transaction at hand.

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A trust is a separate entity that can hold property for the future use of beneficiaries. It is one estate planning option for giving away an inheritance. When you set up a trust, you’ll need to move assets into it. (You can even remove assets from the trust, if you’ve created a revocable living trust.) In order to do this, you will need to furnish proof that the trust exists.

Related article: How to set up a trust.

A trust is created and only exists by the terms of a trust agreement, which outlines everything about the trust. This document has information pertaining to your estate plan, like how much a beneficiary would receive and under what circumstances, which you may not want other people to see. That’s when the certificate of trust comes in handy. When making certain financial transactions that require you to disclose your trust, you can sometimes provide the certificate of trust instead of the trust document.

For example, when you want to fund your trust with a bank account, the certificate shows the bank the trust exists without revealing more sensitive details about the trust. When you put your house in a trust, a trust certificate shows proof of ownership to the recording office without revealing who gets the house when you die. You can use a trust certification in almost every transaction where you’d use the entire trust document. (In some states, people and businesses that do not accept the certificate can be held liable for any monetary loss suffered by the grantor.)

Learn how to fund a trust.

The trust certification typically contains following:

  • The existence of the trust and the date it was created

  • Name of the grantor (settlor) and their address

  • Name of the trustee and their address

  • Trustee’s powers (e.x. ability to buy, sell, exchange property)

  • Whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable

  • Trust tax identification number

  • Legal description of real property, if dealing with real estate

How do I get a certificate of trust?

If you need a trust certification you can create one on your own. Many states include a set of requirements for what a certificate of trust should entail (like what’s listed above) in their legal statutes. As long as you create a certification within those guidelines, you will have a legitimate document.

You can also find a free trust form online and financial institutions and escrow companies may include their own certificate of trust form for you to use. If you hired an estate attorney to set up a trust, it’s possible that they may also provide you with a certificate of trust if asked.

The certificate of trust must be signed by the acting trustees and notarized. See where you can find a notary.

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