does trust avoid probate

Should You Have a Will or Living Trust?

When people put their legal affairs in order, they have a decision to make. One of the questions they have to answer is, “ Should I use a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) as the legal instrument to pass along my estate to my heirs, or should I use a Revocable Living Trust (“Living Trust”)?

Let’s start with the basics. If you use a Will to pass your estate to your survivors, you’ll like have provisions leaving your estate, or parts of it, to your spouse, your children or others, or perhaps even leaving assets to a trust the terms of which are part of your Will (called a “testamentary trust”) that will be established with assets after your death.

With a “Will Plan,” you leave title to all your assets in your name: your home, your other real estate, your investments, and so forth. When you die, your assets are frozen (even though you had a Will), and your survivors must retain an attorney or attorneys to go through the court-supervised process of transferring assets to the people who are named in your Will.

If you have a Living Trust, your Living Trust will be prepared, for example, so that after you pass away, your trust provides that your estate, or parts of it, are to be transferred from your trust to your spouse, your children or others, or assets may remain in trust for the benefit of minors, irresponsible heirs, or heirs who are receiving government benefits so that they should not inherit assets in their name. When you establish your Living Trust, you will likely work with your estate attorney to transfer title of assets to your trust, such as your home, other real estate, investments, and so forth.

When you die, trust assets are not frozen. Attorneys and the court system do not have to get involved in the trust settlement because the court system only governs assets that are titled in your name when you die. In your Living Trust, you designated a Successor Trustee or Co-Trustees who will have immediate authority to transfer assets from your trust. Many people perceive it that their Living Trust replaces the Will.

So, which program should you have? It’s ultimately your decision, and some people make decisions like this based on their prior life experiences. Will clients often tell us something like, “When my mother died 12 years ago, I don’t remember her probate being too difficult. We had to do the probate to get the house in our names, but we were not in a big hurry.”

We hear from some Will clients the something like the following, “I don’t have any children so if my distant relatives and favorite charities named in my Will have to go through probate, so be it…I’ll be dead.”

Trust clients often tell us something like, “When my father died, his probate took years and it was difficult and expensive, and I don’t want my kids to go through that, so let’s set up a Living Trust.”

We’ll also hear, “My spouse and I want to make things as easy as we can on the surviving spouse when one of us passes, so let’s establish a Trust.”

Other Living Trust clients say, “If my spouse and I can establish a Living Trust and avoid the future delays and expenses of two probates (one when each of us dies), then a Living Trust seems like a no-brainer.”

And other Living Trust clients tell us, “We pre-arranged our funerals to make things as easy on our survivors and we’d like to do the same kind of pre-planning and pre-arrangements for our estate.”

Now, if you go the Living Trust route, make sure you watch my popular YouTube video titled, “If You Have a Revocable Living Trust, Watch This Now,” which address the important topic of trust funding.

Bottom line or Will vs. Living Trust? Take action. Talk to an estate attorney. Hopefully the attorney’s own biases don’t preclude you from making an informed decision. But get started. Failing to act puts the government in complete control of your estate, and who wants that?

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

Paul Rabalais

Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney

Phone: (225) 329-2450