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Maximizing Your Estate: The Power of a Revocable Living Trust


A legal assistant explaining what a revocable living trust is to a woman on her left

Estate planning is pivotal to securing the financial future of Texas residents, especially married couples, business owners, and individuals navigating complex family dynamics. This post explores the role of a Revocable Living Trust in estate planning, including its advantages and disadvantages, and how it can help accomplish your unique needs or goals. It also touches on other types of trusts and how to set up a trust.


What is a Revocable Living Trust?

A trust is a legal entity designed to own and hold assets for the benefit of others. To create a trust, two key people are required: the person transferring property into the trust (known as the Trustor, Settler, or Grantor) and the individual who must control and manage the trust's assets, known as the Trustee. The trust's purpose is to use and hold all included property for the benefit of the specific individuals named in the trust document, referred to as Beneficiaries.


When a trust is established during the Trustor's lifetime instead of through their will, it is called a living trust. If the Trustor retains the right to revoke the trust in the future, it’s a revocable trust. Therefore, a Revocable Living Trust is one created during the Trustor's lifetime and is subject to their ability to revoke it. Importantly, the Trustor can serve as both the Trustee and Beneficiary of a Revocable Living Trust, thereby preserving substantial control over the trust's assets, including bank accounts. Like a will, a living trust can include instructions for Trust-owned property upon the Trustor's death.


Revocable Living Trust vs. a Will

A will is a legal document specifying how a person’s property should be distributed after death. However, upon a person’s passing, the will must undergo a legal process known as probate. In probate court, a judge must, at a minimum, verify the will's execution adhered to the law and appoint a representative for the estate.


A living trust also dictates the distribution of assets after death, but because the property is already owned by the trust, it circumvents probate. Beneficiaries don't need to await court validation or appointments to receive their inheritance. A Revocable Living Trust instructs the successor trustee to either distribute the trust property to your beneficiaries or manage it for their benefit. Moreover, unlike a will, a trust can also appoint a successor trustee to oversee and utilize the property for your benefit should you become incapacitated. This can eliminate the need for a court-appointed guardian, which can be a time-consuming and contentious process.


Advantages of a Revocable Living Trust in Estate Planning

The primary advantage of a Revocable Living Trust is the seamless transfer of assets to beneficiaries after the Trustor's demise, without the need for probate. Upon the Trustor's passing, a successor trustee simply executes the Trustor's instructions in the trust agreement.

There are several compelling reasons to opt for a trust and avoid probate:


1. Cost and Time Savings

Probating an estate can be costly and time-consuming, especially for more complex estates. A well-drafted Revocable Living Trust can bypass this process entirely, ensuring a swifter and more cost-effective transfer of assets to beneficiaries.


2. Privacy

Probate proceedings in Texas result in the will and its contents becoming a matter of public record. If keeping your assets and wishes private is important, using a Revocable Living Trust can help. Because Revocable Living Trusts do not have to be probated, their contents can remain private. This added layer of privacy can be especially crucial for individuals with significant assets or complex family situations.


3. Out-of-State Property

A trust can prove invaluable for those who own real estate beyond Texas borders. If your estate is probated in Texas, but you also own property outside the state, probate will involve more time and expense. Generally speaking, to transfer ownership of that property outside the state, your heirs would have to hire an attorney in that state for an ancillary probate procedure. This can result in huge savings in time and money for individuals with multi-state property holdings.


4. Complex Family Situations

Revocable Living Trusts are versatile and suitable for complex family dynamics, including blended families, nontraditional families, business owners, and individuals with substantial wealth. If the management and distribution of your estate is governed by a will, it could take some time to have the will admitted to probate, especially if the will is challenged. Using a Revocable Living Trust avoids that delay. Texas estate plans governing complex or wealthy estates are also more likely to be challenged. Revocable Living Trusts are often more difficult to contest than a will, especially if the Trustor was also the Trustee of the trust.


5. Business Continuity

If you own your own business, it’s an asset that must be distributed like any other. If you do that through a will, ownership won’t actually pass until the will is probated and the estate representative has settled all debts of the estate. Until then, your business could be in limbo. By entrusting ownership of your business in a trust, you ensure the trustee can continue its operation after you pass, ensuring its continuity and safeguarding the interests of your employees and partners.


6. Retained Control

A Revocable Living Trust allows the Trustor to retain control over the property in the trust during their lifetime. As long as they are alive and not incapacitated, they have complete control of what property to place into or remove from the trust and how to utilize the Trust’s property. Although the trust holds ownership, the Trustor can still use the property for their own benefit, such as continuing to live in a home placed into the trust or receiving income from investment property. The Trustor/Trustee can sell Trust property, change the future recipients of it, or even revoke the trust entirely.


Disadvantages of Revocable Living Trusts in Estate Planning

While a Revocable Living Trust offers numerous benefits, it requires more time and effort from both the estate planning attorney and the client for creation and maintenance. Properly funding the trust is crucial. Failure to fund the trust renders it ineffective. Assets must be appropriately assigned to the trust, which involves different procedures based on asset type.

For those with simple or modest estates, the costs of creating and funding a trust may exceed the savings from avoiding probate.


Using a Will and Revocable Living Trust Together

Even if you have a Revocable Living Trust, a will remains essential. For various reasons, not all your assets may have been transferred to the trust before your death. In such cases, a "pour-over will" ensures that these assets are transferred to the trust after your death and then administered in accordance with the trust's terms. That way, the distribution of all your property is still ultimately controlled by your trust agreement, and your heirs aren’t left dealing with stray assets.


Work with The Caleb Patterson Law Firm for Your Estate Planning and Revocable Living Trust

A Revocable Living Trust offers a powerful estate planning solution for a diverse range of individuals and families. Whether you're a Texas business owner, someone with complex family dynamics, or own multi-state assets, this versatile legal instrument can help you streamline the distribution of your assets, protect your privacy, and retain control over your estate. While it does require some initial effort and collaboration with legal professionals to craft the trust documents and work out beneficiary designation, the benefits of a Revocable Living Trust can far outweigh the drawbacks, providing you with a comprehensive and flexible estate planning strategy that ensures your legacy lives on as you intend.


If a living trust makes sense for you, the team at The Caleb Patterson Law Firm will assist you in crafting one tailored to your unique circumstances and objectives. Contact us today to begin planning for your family's future and gain peace of mind.


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