If you are considering creating a trust, you have some choices to make. Trusts come in several types and are highly customizable. When you are deciding which type is right for you and your family, you must consider your short-term and long-term goals.
Living and testamentary trusts
A trust allows you to divide ownership in assets. You, as the grantor, place the assets in a trust. A person known as the trustee manages the assets and distributes them to the people you have named as the beneficiaries.
When creating a trust, one of your first choices is between a testamentary trust and a living trust.
A testamentary trust goes into effect upon your death. Compared to distributing your assets solely through a will, a testamentary trust provides a greater degree of control for you, and a greater degree of protection for the assets. However, the assets in a testamentary trust must go through the probate process before a trust can be created.
A living trust goes into effect during your lifetime and can continue after your death. Because the assets in the trust are not part of your estate when you die, they do not have to go through probate. In some cases, you can name yourself as trustee and/or beneficiary, and then designate successors to take on those roles after you pass away.
Living trusts may be revocable or irrevocable. As their names suggest, the main differences lie in how much control you, as the grantor, have over the assets in these trusts.
If your trust is irrevocable, you have very little control over the assets once you have put them into the trust. If you change your mind, you cannot easily dissolve the trust, add new beneficiaries, or even change the way assets are distributed to beneficiaries.
However, this type of trust offers a great degree of protection for the assets. It’s true that you can’t get to them easily, but neither can anyone else. We’ll see why that’s important below.
A revocable trust gives you a much greater degree of control. For example, if you remarry or your family goes through another big change, you can designate new beneficiaries. You can dissolve the trust if you decide it isn’t working out. If you are the beneficiary, this means that the assets go directly to you.
There is a tradeoff that comes with this degree of control: Compared to an irrevocable trust, the revocable type makes it easier for you to get access to the assets if you need them, but it’s also easier for others to access them — namely, your creditors. If you owe money to someone, they may be able to get it from your revocable trust, either during your life or after your death.
Weighing the options
As we have seen, the differences between revocable and irrevocable trusts boil down to the degree of control you, the grantor, have over the assets. With that in mind, when deciding between the two types, you must decide how much control you want.