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Using a Real Estate Trust to Shield Real Estate Ownership from Public View

Soon after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Wilson received plenty of unsolicited advice about what he should do with his life now.

One report on CNN, paraphrasing several former police officers, advised, “He’s got to change his name. He’s got to change his appearance. He’s got to put his property in a trust so that it can’t be viewed publicly.”

Keeping Your Identity Private

Shielding property ownership from public view sounds like a prudent idea in Wilson’s case since, according to his attorneys, he recently married, has a baby on the way, and has been the target of death threats.

But you don’t have to be at the center of such an emotionally charged controversy to consider taking such a step. There may be any number of reasons why certain property owners might not want their identities to be publicly available, and state laws offer a way to give those property owners some privacy from otherwise prying eyes.

In the Sunshine State, that’s done by setting up a Florida Land Trust. It’s a mechanism that allows real estate owners to retain and manage their property on a confidential basis. Under a land trust, the legal title to the property is actually held by a trustee. The trustee then acts on behalf of the beneficiary in accordance with a trust agreement. But in reality, the beneficiary is the one who maintains control of the property.

A trust can also be part of a comprehensive estate plan, allowing assets to be managed in this manner, thereby avoiding the probate process upon a family member’s death.

Duties of the Trustee

The Florida Land Trust Act sets forth a number of responsibilities of trustees. They include:

  • The duty to convey, sell, lease, mortgage, or deal with the trust property, or to exercise such other powers concerning the trust property as may be provided in the recorded instrument, in each case as directed by the beneficiaries or by the holder of the power of direction;
  • The duty to sell or dispose of the trust property at the termination of the trust; and
  • The duty to perform ministerial and administrative functions delegated to the trustee in the trust agreement or by the beneficiaries.

Businesses Can Also Use Florida Land Trusts

While a land trust can be a useful tool for individuals who may be subject to stalkers or other harassment, businesses and organizations have also made use of the law. It’s been said that Walt Disney used the provision in the 1960s to acquire the Central Florida property that is now home to Walt Disney World, the famous resort near Orlando.

But according to the Orlando Sentinel, the entertainment company went even further, setting up dummy corporations, enlisting real estate agents who didn’t know the company’s true identity, and conducting some transactions in cash to avoid a paper trail. Speculation on who was buying up all the land ranged from aerospace firms to the Ford Motor Company. Eventually, however, Florida’s governor confirmed the land purchases were for Disney’s future theme park.

At the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, P.A., we can help you determine if a Florida Land Trust fits your financial planning goals, whether for business or your own personal property. To arrange a consultation, contact our Lake Worth, Boca Raton, or West Palm Beach office today.

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