Certificate of Trust: What Is It, and Do You Need One?

A certificate of trust verifies your trust for financial institutions without exposing private details.
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A certificate or certification of trust is a shortened version of a trust document that can be presented to financial institutions in lieu of your original trust

Cornell Law School. Certification of trust. Accessed Jun 23, 2023.
. The certificate proves that your trust was established, that it still exists and that it’s managed by a specific trustee.

Certificates of trust contain only the necessary information for financial institutions, omitting sensitive details of the trust that you may not want to share. Having a certificate of trust in place allows your trustee(s) to perform their duties without having to produce the entire original trust every time they need to make a trust-related transaction.

Certificates of trust are optional, but they’re a wise choice if you’re concerned about keeping the personal information in your trust private.

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What’s in a certificate of trust?

Specific rules for a certificate of trust can vary from state to state, though they’re required to contain certain basic information, which may include:

  • The trust’s name.

  • The trust’s identification number.

  • The title to the trust’s assets.

  • The name of the trust creator.

  • The name of the trustee.

  • The names of any successor/additional trustees.

  • Whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable.

  • A description of the trustee’s powers.

Certificates of trust don’t need to include more personal information, such as the names of beneficiaries, the value of trust assets or how assets are to be divided among the beneficiaries.

How to get a certificate of trust

There are three ways to get a certificate of trust made:

  1. With a lawyer. An estate planning attorney can draft a certificate of trust for you to accompany your trust.

  2. With estate planning software. Most online will makers have trust plans, which often include a certificate of trust.

  3. With a state-specific form from a financial institution or notary public. Especially when doing it yourself, make sure the certificate includes your state’s specific requirements.

Whichever option you choose, your certificate of trust will need to be signed by the trustor, all trustees and a notary public. Depending on your state regulations and situation, you may also have to file your certificate of trust at your local county office.

Certificates of trust by state

The majority of states have their own statutes regarding certificates of trust, and the differences can be subtle. For example, rules can vary on:

  • Identification. In California, the certificate of trust must contain the entire trust identification number, while in Oregon, the last four digits of the trustor’s Social Security number can suffice

    Oregon Public Law. Uniform Trust Code. Accessed Jun 23, 2023.

  • Trust name. In Minnesota and South Carolina, a certificate of trust must contain the actual name of the trust (if one has been given). In California and Oregon, the name of the trust isn’t required on the document.

  • Authorization statement. In Minnesota (but not California, South Carolina or Oregon), the certificate of trust must contain the statement, "The trustees are authorized by the instrument to sell, convey, pledge, mortgage, lease, or transfer title to any interest in real or personal property, except as limited by the following: (if none, so indicate)."

  • Account of trustee powers. In West Virginia, the certificate of trust is called a memorandum of trust, and in addition to the basic information required by most other states, it must contain an account of the powers the trustee has if they differ at all from the state code

    West Virginia Legislature. Memorandum of trust requirements. Accessed Jun 23, 2023.
    .

Because of these slight differences, small errors and omissions can cause problems with the validity of a certificate of trust and make it difficult to use the document as needed. Be sure you — or your attorney, if you have one — are familiar with your unique state regulations.

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