Estate Planning: The Use of a Last Will versus a Revocable Living Trust
Many clients come in asking about setting up a Trust rather then a Will for their estate planning. Trusts are very trendy right now, especially in states like California where the probate process is expensive and complicated.
Each of these estate-planning tools has pros and cons. The following information is meant to make sure you understand the differences and enable you to make an informed decision about which estate-planning method is right for you.
When a Last Will is used, it does not become an effective document until death. A Last Will requires the property of the decedent to go through the probate process prior to being distributed. Probate is the process by which a Last Will is presented to the court, the court authorizes the representative of the estate to take possession of the decedent’s assets, the creditors of the decedent are notified, and, approximately four months later, the representative pays the creditors and then distributes the assets to the intended beneficiaries.
When a Revocable Living Trust is used, the assets titled in the name of the trust are not part of the decedent’s estate, and do not need to go through the probate process. As soon as the individual who set up the trust dies, the alternate trustee named in the trust is entitled to take control of the assets without any court involvement. Importantly, this process also happens when the person who set up the trust becomes incapacitated.
Colorado has an informal probate process. The probate court is minimally involved with the process, and thus most probates here are both inexpensive and efficient. However, as noted above it does take about four months to complete the process. In a Revocable Living Trust based plan, the immediate ability of the alternate trustee to access the assets in the trust upon the incapacity or death of the settlor of the trust is definitely an advantage if time is a consideration.
If you choose to use a revocable-living trust based estate plan, your personal residence, vacation home, and investment accounts and other types of property are usually transferred into the name of the trust, requiring retitling of these assets, but tax advantaged retirement accounts are usually not. This process of retitling the assets is one of the two disadvantages of using a Revocable Living Trust when compared to a Last Will-based estate plan. The second disadvantage to the Revocable Living Trust is that it is typically more expensive than a Last Will based plan.
I generally recommend a Last Will based estate plan here in Colorado because of our informal probate process. I recommend a Revocable Living Trust based plan to my clients who meet any of the following criteria:
➢ complex asset management needs or diverse types of investment assets since Revocable Living Trusts provide a very strong asset management tool;
➢ property outside the state of Colorado (since such property can be placed in the Trust, no additional probate proceeding will need to be opened in the other states);
➢ the need for privacy (Wills are filed at death and become pseudo-public documents) or the wish that their at-death disposition not be public; and
➢ impending disability (at the disability of the individual, the alternate trustee will be able to take control of the assets in the trust).
Feel free to call or email me if you have further questions regarding the differences between these two types of plans.