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Do I Need a Living Trust or a Will? Or Both?

In some states, clients are charged court costs and attorney’s fees, based on the worth of their probate assets. Thus, the cost of the administration of the estate increases, as the value of the probate estate increases.

This is just one of the reasons people think they want a trust: to ensure that the value of their overall estate will not decrease, because of the cost of probate. The most common way to do that is with a trust, says The Houston Chronicle in the article “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

In some states, probate is not an expensive or overly time-consuming issue. Texas, for example, has what is called an independent administration. Executors handle the tasks involved in settling an estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries. As a result, there’s very little court involvement. However, that’s not the case everywhere. An estate planning attorney in your area will be able to explain the details of your state’s procedures and discuss whether a trust is right for your estate. They’ll also explain the difference between different types of trusts.

The trust most frequently used to avoid probate, is known as a revocable management trust, living trust or an “inter vivos” trust.

Selecting the best type of trust for each situation is different. Here are some advantages of living trusts:

Avoiding probate. The cost of probate alone is not reason enough to use a trust. However, if your assets are in trusts, you may not need to file an inventory listing your assets with the court. That’s not always required in every jurisdiction, but if it is required where you live, a trust can help keep your asset list private, by ensuring that it is only seen by beneficiaries.

Asset management for incapacity. A living trust goes into effect, while you are alive. If you become incapacitated, an alternate trustee can step in to manage assets, pay bills and ensure that finances are taken care of.

Avoiding probate in another state. If you own out-of-state property, your estate may need to be probated in your home state and in the other state. If you have a living trust, out-of-state parcels of land can be deeded into the trust during your lifetime, thus avoiding the need for probate in another state. After your passing, your trustee can handle the out-of-state property in the living trust.

Administrative ease. There are, unfortunately, instances when Power of Attorney can be challenged by financial institutions. The authority of a trustee is more likely to be recognized, by banks, investment companies, etc. 

There are some questions about whether it’s better to have a living trust or a will. The most complex part of having a living trust, is the process of funding the trust. It is imperative for the trust to work, that every asset you own is either transferred into the trust or retitled into the name of the trust. If assets are left out or incorrectly funded, then probate will probably be necessary. This can occur, even if only one single asset is left out.

If an asset is controlled by beneficiary designation, then the trust may not need to be named a beneficiary, should you want it to pass directly to one or more beneficiaries.

Funding the trust becomes complicated, when retirement accounts are involved. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you want to make the trust a designated beneficiary of a retirement account. This is because very specific and complex rules may limit the ability to “stretch” the distributions form the account. 

Using a trust instead of a will-based plan is growing in popularity, but it should never be an automatic decision. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the pros and cons of each strategy and help you and your family decide which is better for you.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (Feb. 15, 2019) “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

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