by Thomas D. Richards, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist
You do not have to a millionaire to need a trust. As a rule of thumb, anyone with probate assets of more than $50,000 should consider a trust. When you compare the cost of the trust with probate costs, you about break even at $50,000. So if you have under $50,000 in total assets, it would cost less for you to just have your estate pay the probate fees than pay our fees to prepare a trust. If you are married at the time you pass away, a higher amount is allowed for your estate to avoid probate.
There are other benefits to having a trust. One is the privacy of a trust. When you pass away and your estate goes through probate, all of your probate assets are “inventoried” as a public filing in the court, and the value of your estate is published in the local newspaper for all to see. With a trust, no one sees any of your assets or values except the successor trustee and your named beneficiaries. Another benefit is that a trust is a contract you make with yourself, in the case of a Family Trust, or sometimes called a “Living Trust,” and what is technically called an “Inter Vivos Revocable Trust.” What this means is that you can change your trust by hand writing changes in the comfort of your home; you don’t have to go to the lawyer’s office to make changes, and you can hand write the changes knowing that they will be honored even if you passed away in your sleep that same night. Contracts such as a trust can be altered by the parties who can make hand-written changes to it. However, with a will, you cannot make any changes to it without invalidating the will. A typed will must be retyped and hand-written changes are not permitted. And, with a will, probate law requires that any alterations to a will must be made in front of two disinterested witnesses who must sign that they saw you sign the new revised will in their presence. With a trust, you do not need the witnesses, and you do not need to retype the trust in order to make changes. There are, of course, some exceptions to these rules.