As complicated as life can be, reconciling an estate after our death can be a tremendous task for surviving loved ones. Even if a person dies leaving a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) that names an executor to oversee the disposition of an estate, assets that are owned in individual name without a beneficiary designation need to go through a legal process called “probate” which is overseen by a court. Establishing a living trust during life can help heirs avoid a lengthy and sometimes costly probate process. Trusts created during life have several advantages, including consolidating and retitling assets during life so everything is under one umbrella (the trust) and then naming individuals to manage both the assets and the plan for distribution after death. Also, while probate details are available to the public and controlled by a court process, a living trust ensures privacy for you and your heirs while ensuring specific estate planning wishes are followed.
A “Revocable Trust” is a planning tool that allows the person creating the trust (the “grantor”) to avoid probate by titling assets in the name of a trustee. A trustee is the legal owner of all of the trust assets – so on the books, ownership is changing hands. Most individual grantors who create a Revocable Trust also serve as the trustee during life so they continue to manage all their own trust assets. The trust document itself names successor trustees, persons who step in to manage trust assets after the grantor’s death or incapacity. For many, this raises questions: How do the roles of a successor trustee and executor differ? If I name a successor trustee, do I also need an executor? How do ensure I avoid probate if I create a Trust? Can they be the same person?