On a regular basis I get a phone call from a client wanting to do a will. After sitting down with the client and learning more about their life, asset, and goals they generally decide to do a revocable trust. So, in this mind set and because I’m regularly asked about when a trust is worth it, my top reasons for the average person to do a trust:
1 – PROBATE. Think about your assets. House, car, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, anything without a beneficiary. Total their equity. More than $40,000? You’re going through probate. Probate is a long, expensive, public process, most people want to avoid. A trust can do exactly that. The important issue here is that assets must be in the trust in order to avoid probate.
2 – CONTROL. Now think about your beneficiaries and look at that total you had before. Trust your beneficiaries with that money outright? No? Then a trust can implement controls where your assets are only used in ways you specify or at time when you think your beneficiaries will be responsible with those assets. This directly applies to minors and children. At times, the court will appoint a person to control a minor’s assets. This means they will most likely gain access to those assets when they reach the age of 18. Will the beneficiary really be conscientious enough at 18 years old to use those assets in their best interest? In addition, will the court appoint the same person you would choose to handle your money?
3 – COMPLICATED FAMILIES. This is a bit unfair, as I admit, we all have complicated families. However, I really mean families with step-children and step-parents or families where disinheritance is a reality. General beneficiary schemes do not account for these “non-traditional” families and it’s often important to use a trust to guarantee the people you wish have access and control over assets.
4 – MULTIPLE BENFICIARIES. If your assets are over that $40,000 mark and you still want to avoid probate, it is possible to list beneficiaries on most assets. However, when you have 6 beneficiaries (especially when a few of them are married) it makes it complicated when they try and sell an asset. In most cases, all of their signatures (and perhaps their spouses) will be required for a sale. Beyond the problems and delay actually gathering all of the signatures, it also can create problems when one person disagrees on what to do with the house or a car. In a trust, they all can benefit from assets, but only one (or maybe two) people make the decision and sign off on that decision.
5 – CONTINGENCIES. In the same aspect, if you are worried about probate, beneficiaries on most forms are limited. There are only spaces for limited beneficiaries and in addition to the number of contingencies, they limit how complicated the beneficiary scheme can be. For example, you have two beneficiaries. Something happens to the one and you’d like their share to go to their children instead of to the other beneficiary. Most beneficiary forms do not allow for this level of detail. It either all goes to one level or the other. A trust can consider your beneficiaries and family as a whole.
6 – PROBATE. So, you’ve seen this once, but it deserves another mention. As you’ve probably gathered at this point, there are other ways to avoid probate. With a small and “traditional” family without minors or other needs for control, those other forms work great. However, in reality those situations rarely exist. That is why after I sit down with most clients they no longer want just a simple will; they want a trust.