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Having a legal will is an essential step to help ensure that your money is distributed according to your wishes. However, in some cases you may also want to make provisions through a trust. Unlike a will, certain trusts might accomplish goals during your lifetime, provide greater control of your money after your death, offer tax benefits, and/or avoid the often expensive and time-consuming probate process.

comparing trust

Basic Terms and Structures

A trust is a legal arrangement under which one person or institution controls property given by another person for the benefit of a third party. The person giving the property is referred to as the trustor (or grantor), the person controlling the property is the trustee, and the person for whom the trust operates is the beneficiary. With some trusts, you can name yourself as the trustor, the trustee, and the beneficiary.

A testamentary trust becomes effective upon your death and is usually established by your last will and testament. One common use of a testamentary trust is to ensure that monies left to children or others are distributed by a trustee who is chosen by you to carry out your wishes and work in the best interests of your heirs.

A living trust takes effect during your lifetime. When you set up a living trust, you transfer the title of all the monies you wish to place in the trust from you as an individual to the trust. Technically, you no longer own the transferred monies. If you name yourself as trustee, you maintain control of those dollars and can buy, sell, or give them away as you see fit. However, this option may negate any estate tax benefits.

Living trusts can be either revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust can be dissolved or amended at any time while the grantor is still alive. An irrevocable trust may be modified or revoked only with the consent of the trustee and the beneficiary, depending on state laws. Both types of living trusts avoid probate and may provide other benefits not offered by a will or a testamentary trust (see chart above). A testamentary trust is irrevocable by definition, but the grantor could change it by amending the will that established the trust.

Trusts and Their Costs

Trusts involve up-front costs and often have ongoing administrative fees. The use of trusts involves a complex web of tax rules and regulations. You should consider the counsel of an experienced estate planning professional and your legal and tax advisors before implementing a trust strategy.

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Freeman Owen, Jr - Host of SAFE MONEY TALK on CBS The Big Talker 1580AM