Is A Trust Right For You?
Like a will, a trust is a method of transferring an estate to your heirs. At the simplest level, a trust is a financial document that grants a third party (known as a trustee) authority to handle assets on behalf of beneficiaries. The three key differences between wills and trusts are the lifetime benefits, the level of privacy, and the time and effort required to distribute assets. Because trusts involve more complicated financial components and directives, they are typically more expensive to set up than wills.
Revocable Versus Irrevocable Trusts
As the names imply, a revocable trust can be modified or canceled by the grantor (the person who sets up the trust), while an irrevocable trust requires the grantor to give up control of the assets in the trust. Assets in a revocable trust are part of the grantor’s estate, making them subject to estate tax, divorce, and claims of creditors. Assets in an irrevocable trust are not part of the grantor’s estate and can be structured to avoid estate tax, divorce, and claims of creditors. Both types of trusts allow your heirs to avoid the fees and publication of estate details associated with probate, but only an irrevocable trust can protect assets from creditors.
Directing Funds To Minor Beneficiaries
Trusts can be used to avoid letting the court appoint a guardian to manage funds if both parents die while their children are still minors. Grantors can set up a trust to be the beneficiary for life insurance and retirement accounts. This allows a trustee chosen by the grantor to manage the fund. It also allows the parents to choose the age at which they want their children to get their inheritance; the court usually distributes funds when the minors turn 18.
Managing Finances If You Become Mentally Incapacitated
Mental disability planning is often done to avoid the possibility of a court-supervised conservatorship. A revocable trust can set up provisions for determining your mental competency outside of the court, potentially saving you thousands in court fees. It allows you to choose who will take care of you and manage your finances if you become incapacitated.
Probate is the process by which a court approves a will and appoints the person to administer the estate. Technically, a “will” is not a will until the court says so. Reasons that a court would not approve a will could be that the will wasn’t witnessed properly, that the person creating the will didn’t have the mental capacity necessary to create the will, or that the person was unduly influenced or coerced to give more or less to certain persons. Creating a trust can avoid court involvement.
Also, if you own real estate in more than one state you may have to go through “ancillary” probate in each state where the land is located. A living trust can help you avoid the cost of multiple probates.
Deciding If A Trust Is Right For You
A will is inexpensive relative to most trusts, but a will requires probate and is subject to being contested in court. If your estate is not too complicated and you’re not worried about privacy, planning for incapacity, or avoiding probate, a will might be the right choice for you. However, if your estate is more complicated, you want to avoid probate or set up provisions for handling your assets if you become incapacitated, a trust may be more appropriate.
Every situation is different and requires detailed analysis. I will make sure you understand the benefits of all your options so you can make an informed choice.