Living trusts may be one of the most misunderstood of all estate planning tools, especially because there are several common myths about living trusts floating around.
Maybe you've even heard some of them yourself and, because of misinformation, you think setting up a trust isn't for you. Well, with all due respect to people at the television show, MythBusters, it's time to bust up some myths about living trusts.
First, let's talk about what a living trust is, some living trust basics, and why a living trust may be an important part of your estate plan.
What Are the Benefits of a Living Trust?
A living trust, also called a revocable living trust or living revocable trust, allows the person writing the trust (the grantor) to retain control over the trust property until death. Then the trust is turned over to the successor trustee, who had been handpicked by the grantor, to distribute the trust property according to the grantor's wishes.
There are several benefits to having a living trust as part of your estate plan, including the fact that the trust often enables the assets contained therein to avoid probate, allowing for a fast, easy distribution to your beneficiaries without additional costs.
A living trust maintains your privacy because its provisions stay confidential, which is in sharp contrast to a last will and testament, whose contents become a matter of public record after the testator's death.
One last note: A revocable trust is called as such because it can be changed at any time by the grantor during his or her lifetime. An irrevocable trust, on the other hand, cannot.
Now on to debunking five myths about living trusts.
Myth 1: "Living trusts are only for the wealthy."
This is probably the most widely believed of the living trust myths, and, as you may already have guessed, it couldn't be further from the truth.
Yes, many wealthy people set up trusts—are visions of “trust fund babies" dancing in your head? But that doesn't mean that trusts are an estate planning option only for the rich.
To the contrary, many people of average incomes find that the benefits of a living trust as described above can make them an advantageous choice for their estate planning as well.
Myth 2: "Living trusts only benefit beneficiaries, not grantors."
While many people create living trusts primarily to make sure the trust property goes to their heirs quickly and easily after their death, a living trust can also allow for easier handling of the grantor's affairs should he or she become incapacitated.
In such a situation, having a living trust in place can make things much less stressful and hassle-free for loved ones left to take care of your affairs while you are unable to do so.
Myth 3: "Grantors can't access funds once those funds are in a living trust."
This myth ignores the “living" part of the living trust. The truth is that the funds and assets in a living trust can be made as accessible as you wish—to you or to whomever else you desire.
Accordingly, if you want to use the trust primarily for your benefit, you can set it up so that everything in it is accessible to you until your death. Conversely, you can also make the funds inaccessible to those you don't want to be able to use them during your lifetime.
Myth 4: "Living trusts always avoid probate entirely."
By and large, the assets contained within a trust will usually escape probate, with one big caveat, and it's a great reason to make sure you have experienced professionals helping you set up your trust: If there are assets that were not in the trust, those will still have to go through the regular probate process. This is why it is of the utmost importance that your trust be fully funded—with all of the assets you wish to pass on—in order to gain the full advantage of probate avoidance.
Myth 5: "Creating a living trust is complicated and/or expensive."
False, false, false, and, in fact, you can create a living trust easily by using online living trust forms such as those found at LegalZoom. Alternately, you can hire a specialized estate planning attorney or other legal professional to draw up the documents.
It is true that setting up a trust may cost a bit more upfront than simply writing a last will and testament, but the cost savings later and the other benefits of establishing a living trust can make up for those expenses in the long run.
Getting Ready to Set Up a Living Trust
Now that you've got the straight scoop on living trusts, if you're ready to move forward you can make the process go even more smoothly by thinking about the following:
- The assets you would like to include in the trust
- Who you would like to receive these assets upon your death
- Naming your successor trustee
Note that if there are minor children who would be inheriting through the trust, you have the option to name someone to manage the assets for them until they reach the age of majority.
Ready to create a living trust? LegalZoom can help you create living trust forms online. Get started by answering a few questions. LegalZoom will review your work and you'll receive your living trust with signing instructions.