Totten Trust Law and Legal Definition

Totten trust is a revocable trust created during the lifetime of the Grantor by depositing money, typically in a savings account, in the grantor's name as trustee for another. When the grantor dies, any funds in the account automatically become the property of the beneficiary, but they might be subject to the claims of the decedent's creditors. However the gift is not completed until the Grantor's death, or an unequivocal act reflecting the gift during the Grantor's lifetime. It is similar to “pay on death” account, as it creates no interest in the beneficiary unless the account remained at the depositor's death.

The trust derives its name from the case In re Totten, 179 N.Y. 112, 125-126 (N.Y. 1904) wherein the concept was first recognized by the court. In this case the court held that “A deposit by one person of his own money, in his own name as trustee for another, standing alone, does not establish an irrevocable trust during the lifetime of the depositor. It is a tentative trust merely, revocable at will, until the depositor dies or completes the gift in his lifetime by some unequivocal act or declaration, such as delivery of the pass book or notice to the beneficiary. In case the depositor dies before the beneficiary without revocation, or some decisive act or declaration of disaffirmance, the presumption arises that an absolute trust was created as to the balance on hand at the death of the depositor.”

Totten trusts can be used as an alternative to a will and is therefore known as a type of will substitute. It is also referred to as a tentative trust because it is contingent upon the death of the trustee. It is also termed bank-account trust; savings-account trust; savings-bank trust; trustee bank account.