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The Benefits of a Revocable Living Trust vs. a Will

By Julie Garber

Making a decision between a revocable living trust vs. a will comes down to your personal concerns and what you want to achieve with your estate plan. For most people, an irrevocable trust isn’t an option because it involves turning over ownership your property to the trust and its trustee forever — once you do it, there’s no turning back.

A revocable living trust can be “undone” if you change your mind. It’s not necessarily permanent. If you elect to form a revocable living trust rather than write a will, you’re always free to reverse your decision later. You may not want to, however. This type of trust has some distinct advantages over a last will and testament.

Avoid Probate and Maintain Your Privacy

The necessity of probate is a major distinction between a revocable living trust vs. a will.

Probate is a court-supervised process that’s required when someone dies leaving a will — and even if he doesn’t leave a will. His estate must pass to his heirs and beneficiaries, and probate is the legal process by which this is accomplished.

A revocable living trust does not require probate. It’s a private contract between you as the “trustmaker” or “grantor” and the trust entity. In most cases, a grantor serves as the trustee of his own revocable living trust, managing the property he places within it. A successor trustee steps in to take over when the grantor dies, settling the trust and distributing its property to the beneficiaries named in the trust documents.

When a will is submitted to the court to open probate, it becomes a matter of public record. Anyone can stop by the courthouse and read it. They’ll know what you owned and to whom you left it. No one other than the beneficiaries — and in some states, heirs regardless of whether they’re beneficiaries — are entitled to see the trust documents. They will not become public record unless an heir or beneficiary files a lawsuit to challenge the validity of your trust.