When you are weighing your estate planning options, a revocable trust or living trust will likely be among the choices. Find out how to decide if you need a trust, and what the drawbacks and benefits of having a revocable living trust can be for you and your family.
For many people, a revocable living trust can be the best estate planning tool to balance their desires for privacy, flexibility, and control of their assets. Even if you don’t have a large estate, there are many benefits to a living trust.
If you ask any estate planning lawyer why you should create a trust, one of the first things they will say is that it avoids probate. The Florida probate process can be time consuming and expensive for family members grieving a lost loved one. Assets within a revocable or irrevocable trust when a person dies pass easily to the beneficiaries named in that trust, without going through probate. This can reduce or sometimes even eliminate your probate estate, saving your family court fees and giving them quicker access to their inheritance.
With few exceptions, everything done within the Florida court system is open to the public. Everything that gets filed with the court can be found if someone knows where to look. But the contents of a trust are private. Those trying to shield their loved ones from prying eyes often create trusts to pass their assets on to the next generation quietly.
One of the benefits of a revocable living trust is its flexibility. Because you create it, fund it, and manage it yourself as a trustee while you are alive, you can adjust how it works and what assets are inside it over time. This means you still have access to your money if you need it. You can even dissolve the trust if your circumstances change.
Trusts also give you more control over your assets after you pass away. With a Will, your heirs generally receive their inheritance at the end of the probate process and are free to do whatever they want with it. A trust can be written with conditions and requirements that allow your trustee to manage assets on the beneficiaries’s behalf if they are too young or have trouble handling their own affairs.
While the standards and possible grounds for challenging a will or trust are generally the same, it is procedurally much more difficult for a disgruntled family member to challenge your trust because no probate court is involved. That limits your legal heirs’ ability to overrule your preferences to get what they think is their fair share of your estate.
A trust can be beneficial even while you are still living. If an accident, injury, or degenerative disease leaves you unable to manage your own affairs, your family may need to ask the Florida probate court to name a guardian on your behalf. If you have a living trust, your co-trustee or successor trustee can step in automatically, often based on your doctor’s recommendation, without getting the court involved.
While there are many benefits to creating revocable trusts, they aren’t right for every family. Before you commit to the process, be sure to consider the downsides as well.
The documents establishing a trust are more complicated, and therefore more expensive than a simple Will. This means that a revocable trust is a more expensive estate planning option, although in many cases, paying more up front will save your family a much greater amount in fees and costs when you pass away. However, if you don’t have many assets, it may not be the right choice for you.
Just signing a revocable living trust document isn’t enough. You also need to fund the trust. This involves signing new deeds to property (which our office generally handles) and transferring or opening new bank accounts. This can be annoying (no one likes doing paperwork or going to the bank!), but it is also essential. An unfunded trust won’t let your trustee manage your affairs the way you intended, and could undermine many of the benefits you hope to gain from it.
While a trust is more difficult to challenge than a will, it does not eliminate the risk entirely. Your trustee may still face a petition that they be removed in the Florida probate court if a beneficiary feels the trustee isn’t doing their job properly. The costs of defending that action may come out of the trust’s assets.
Deciding whether the advantages of a revocable trust outweighs the disadvantages depends on the size of your estate, your circumstances, and your priorities for your family. Don’t make this decision on your own. At Harrison Estate Law, we know when to use revocable living trusts to protect our clients and when other estate planning options are better suited to your needs. We will review all the details of your family and your estate and recommend the best strategies for your particular circumstances. Please contact us online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation. If you don’t live close to Gainesville we are happy to set up a phone or Skype call.