What is a Totten Trusts

What is a Totten Trust?

A Totten trust, also known as a payable-on-death (POD) account, is a form of revocable trust created when an account holder designates a beneficiary to receive the funds in the account upon their death. It’s established by a depositor by naming a beneficiary on the account’s registration forms at a bank or financial institution.

The depositor retains full control over the funds, including the right to withdraw them or change the beneficiary at any time. Upon the depositor’s death, the beneficiary can claim the account’s balance without the need for probate. Totten trusts are a simple way to pass on assets and are often used for small to medium-sized estates.

Pros and Cons of a Totten Trust


  • Ease of Setup: Totten trusts are easy to create, requiring only the designation of a beneficiary on a bank account form.
  • Avoidance of Probate: The funds in a Totten trust pass directly to the beneficiary, bypassing the probate process.
  • Revocability: The account holder can change the beneficiary or revoke the trust at any time.
  • Control: The depositor maintains complete control over the funds while they are alive.


  • Limited to Cash Assets: Totten trusts are limited to the assets in the designated bank account and cannot include real estate or other types of property.
  • No Protection from Creditors: These trusts offer no protection against the account holder’s creditors, who could claim the funds before they are transferred to the beneficiary.
  • Possible Disputes: Beneficiary designations can be subject to disputes among family members, especially if the depositor’s intentions are not clearly communicated.
  • Lack of Flexibility: Unlike a traditional trust, a Totten trust does not allow for complex instructions for the distribution of assets or for contingencies such as the beneficiary predeceasing the account holder.

Is a Totten Trust right for you?

Determining whether a Totten trust is right for you involves evaluating your estate planning needs and understanding the characteristics of this financial instrument:

  • Simplicity and Size of Estate: If you desire a straightforward method to pass on a portion of your estate, specifically cash assets, and your estate is not large or complex, a Totten trust might be appropriate.

  • Probate Concerns: If you want to ensure that certain assets avoid the probate process and are quickly available to a beneficiary, a Totten trust can achieve this.

  • Revocability: If you value the ability to change beneficiaries or revoke the trust without the legal formalities required in other trusts, a Totten trust offers this flexibility.

  • Asset Type: Consider that Totten trusts can only encompass cash assets in bank accounts or similar accounts. If you want to transfer real estate, stocks, or other non-cash assets, you’ll need a different estate planning tool.

  • Beneficiary Needs: Reflect on whether the immediate availability of funds to your beneficiary after your death is important for their financial well-being.

  • Privacy: If maintaining the privacy of your financial affairs after your death is important, a Totten trust, which avoids probate, is also private and does not become a public record.

  • Creditors and Disputes: Understand that the funds in a Totten trust could be subject to your outstanding debts and may also lead to disputes if your estate plan is not clear.

  • Professional Advice: It’s beneficial to consult with an estate planning attorney to see how a Totten trust fits into your overall estate plan and to explore other options that might better suit your needs.

Reflect on your financial goals, the needs of your beneficiaries, and the nature of your assets to determine if a Totten trust aligns with your estate planning objectives.


What is a Totten trust?
A Totten trust, also known as a payable-on-death (POD) account, is a banking arrangement where an account owner names a beneficiary to automatically receive the funds in the account upon the owner’s death.

How do I set up a Totten trust?
You can establish a Totten trust by naming a beneficiary on the registration form provided by your bank or financial institution for your account.

Are Totten trusts revocable?
Yes, Totten trusts are revocable, meaning the account owner can change the beneficiary or close the account at any time.

What types of accounts can be “Totten trust” accounts?
Typically, checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts can be set up as Totten trusts.

Who controls the assets in a Totten trust?
The account owner retains full control over the assets until their death.

Does a Totten trust go through probate?
No, the assets in a Totten trust bypass the probate process and go directly to the named beneficiary upon the account owner’s death.

Can a Totten trust be contested?
While less likely than a will, Totten trusts can still be contested, particularly if there are disputes about the account owner’s intent or capacity when naming the beneficiary.

What happens to a Totten trust if the beneficiary dies before the owner?
If the beneficiary predeceases the account owner, the assets would typically become part of the owner’s estate unless a contingent beneficiary is named.

Are the funds in a Totten trust protected from creditors?
During the account owner’s lifetime, creditors can claim against the funds in the account. After the owner’s death, the funds may be subject to the owner’s outstanding debts before distribution.

Can a Totten trust be part of a will?
A Totten trust is separate from a will and operates outside of it, although it should be considered when coordinating all estate planning documents to ensure they align with the owner’s wishes.

Contact Battlefront Legal

Christopher R. Harrison, Esq is a registered attorney in the state of Nevada who stands out as a highly creative trust attorney who is dedicated to tailoring a trust that perfectly aligns with your unique requirements. His approach to estate planning is both innovative and client-focused, ensuring that your trust is crafted to serve your needs effectively. 

If you’re looking to establish a trust that is as unique as your estate, reach out to Christopher Harrison. Call him today at (775) 539-0000 or click here to start the conversation about securing your legacy.