You have likely heard all about how one should try to avoid probate at all costs when making plans for your estate. You should understand, however, that it is extremely unlikely that you can avoid it altogether. Instead, the main goal of a probate-avoiding estate plan should be to have as little property as possible be included in the probate bucket. To learn about a will alternative that can keep nearly all of your property away from the probate courts, read on.
The Revocable Trust
Don't be intimidated by this fancy title, it is actually a very simple document and mirrors a will in many aspects. It is the ways that it is very different from a will, however, that makes it really shine when it comes to estate planning
Similarities to a Will
The trust is controlled by its owner and can be changed or revoked at any time while the owner is still alive, just like a will (this is where the word "revocable" comes into play).
The trust includes a section for naming specific beneficiaries for specific pieces of property, just like a will.
The trust provides guidance for dealing with real estate, vehicles, personal property, bank accounts, pets and more, just like a will.
The trust's owner appoints someone to be in charge of it after their death, and this person holds a similar position as that of a personal representative, or executor. The trustee is tasked with paying bills of the estate, selling a property, and distributing property to the beneficiaries.
Superior to a Will
Unlike a will, which must be filed in probate court, the trust need not be filed. This means the entire contents of the trust is completely confidential. This particular facet of a trust can help reduce jealousy and bad feelings between beneficiaries over "who gets what". It also means that the property named in the trust is not published for public viewing in the probate court's records.
Also unlike a will, the beneficiaries of the trust can take possession of their bequeaths a lot sooner. Normally, a property that goes through probate must wait for probate to end to be distributed. With a trust, there is no waiting period at all.
If a will and a trust address the very same property, the trust takes precedence. For example, if the will states that Aunt Mable will inherit a certain piece of art, but the trust states that Uncle Mark will inherit the exact same piece of art, uncle Mark is the new owner of that piece of art instead of Aunt Mable.