A living will and trust is one of the two main ways to avoid probate. One of the purposes of probate is to determine who receives the property you leave at death. Since the trustee of your living trust manages that property, there is no need for probate.

A will is a legal declaration where a person names one or more people to manage his or her estate and provides for the distribution of his or her property at death.

An estate plan many times begins with living will and trust. A will provides your instructions, but it does not avoid by itself allow you to probate. Any assets titled in your name or directed by your will must go through your state’s probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs. (If you own property in other states, your family will probably face multiple probates, each one according to the laws in that state.) The process varies greatly from state to state, but it can become expensive with legal fees, executor fees, and court costs. It can also take anywhere from nine months to two years or longer. With rare exception, probate files are open to the public and excluded heirs are encouraged to come forward and seek a share of your estate. In short, the court system, not your family, controls the process.

For these reasons, a revocable living trust is preferred by many families and professionals. It can avoid probate at death (including multiple probates if you own property in other states), prevent court control of assets at incapacity, bring all of your assets (even those with beneficiary designations) together into one plan, provide maximum privacy, is valid in every state, and can be changed by you at any time. It can also reflect your love and values to your family and future generations.

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