What’s better for your estate – a will or a trust?

You may have heard that a living trust is better for estate planning than a will. In reality, there are pros and cons to each. While the topic is too complex to cover thoroughly in a brief article and we at Mentor are not attorneys, we do periodically help our clients address this question.

A revocable living trust is set up during the owner’s lifetime to hold property, generally in an attempt to avoid probate. The trust can hold almost any kind of assets that an individual can – bank and brokerage accounts, life insurance, real estate, cars, etc. A trustee, typically the owner himself, manages the assets until death, when a successor trustee takes over.

Because a trust is a separate entity it can continue in existence long after the owner’s death. Trust assets are not automatically frozen after the owner’s death, unlike assets owned directly. And the entire matter of property disposition after death is a private matter, whereas probate is on public record.

Sounds good so far, but you should be aware of the drawbacks.

First, setting up a trust is generally more complex and costly than writing a will. While a simple will, especially for younger people, can be created by a lawyer  for  just  a  few  hundred dollars, a trust must be custom written for an individual, which will usually cost thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Once the trust is created, all applicable property must be retitled in its name. This can be costly and burdensome, especial­ly for real estate, where a mort­gage lender is usually involved. And as you acquire new property you must remember to put it into the trust.

Finally, you will still need what is called a pourover will, which covers the distribution of any of your property that may not be owned by the trust, for example, clothes, jewelry, or art.

Keep in mind that using a revocable living trust will not re­duce your estate taxes. There are other types of trusts and estate planning techniques to accomp­lish that.

So who is best served by using a living trust? You may want to consider this if you are older, perhaps in ill health and no longer want to manage all of your assets or if your estate is large and complex. Younger clients often decide that the benefits are not sufficient to justify the work and expense.