Wills and Estate Planning

Estate Planning Basics - Understanding a Living Trust

A living trust is similar to a last will and testament in the sense that you can direct how you want to distribute your assets. But there are a few key differences, understand them now.

Living Trust Defined

When it comes to estate planning, more people are establishing a living trust in addition to creating their last will and testament. But what exactly is a living trust and what are the main benefits? The following is a basic living trust definition that can help you better understand how a living trust works and how it may fit in your estate plan.

Living trust definition

A living trust is a legal document created by you (the grantor) while you are alive. Just like a will, a living trust spells out your wishes regarding your assets, dependents, and your heirs. The primary difference between a will and a living trust is that a will becomes effective only after you die and after it enters into probate.

A living trust can bypass the expensive and lengthy probate process, allowing your successor trustee (an individual that acts much like the executor of a will) to carry out your instructions as documented in your living trust at the time of your death. Moreover, if at any time you become incapacitated and are unable to manage your affairs, your successor trustee can step in and manage them on your behalf.

Types of living trusts

There are two types of living trusts - revocable and irrevocable.

With a revocable living trust, you are considered the trustee and retain full control over the assets in your trust. It's called revocable, because at any time you can change or revoke the trust. Your assets in the trust avoid probate by passing directly to your beneficiaries when you die.

An irrevocable living trust gives you the right to permanently and irrevocably give away your assets while you are living, relinquishing all control. Because you no longer own these assets, they are no longer considered part of your estate and won't be subject to estate taxes.

Some common reasons for setting up a living trust may include:

  • Providing for minor children or family members who are inexperienced or unable to handle financial matters
  • Providing for management of personal assets in the event you are unable to handle them on your own
  • A way to avoid probate costs and delays, resulting in the immediate transfer of your assets to your beneficiaries
  • A possible reduction in estate taxes
  • You wish to keep the details about your estate private (unlike a will that is public)

While both wills and living trusts are ways that you can provide for the distribution of your estate upon your death, they both work differently and offer their own benefits. The decision whether to create a will and/or a living trust depends on your individual circumstances. Before making any decisions, consult with a qualified estate planning attorney.

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