Boo! Living trust scare tactics

Most people know they should have some sort of estate planning in place, but they procrastinate because of fear that planning for “it” will hasten its occurrence, or that it’s too expensive. Some believe that no plan is better than being pressured into the wrong type of plan.

There is plenty of conflicting information out there regarding estate planning options, and it may be difficult to know who to trust.

This Halloween season beware of living trust scare tactics. Here are the most common:

“Living Trusts are for everyone.” Watch out for sales-y lawyers who proclaim a Living Trust is the indisputable solution to every person’s estate planning needs. While a Living Trust is no doubt the right vehicle for some people, it may not be right for everyone.

Trust “mills” are designed merely to churn out cheap trusts at a high volume, but they fail to advise clients on the importance of trust funding and you won’t have ongoing client care as your life changes.

“Living Trusts are for no one.” Some so-called authorities make the claim to the public that if an attorney discusses a Living Trust with you they’re just trying to scam you. They even say that no one needs a Living Trust because “probate is easy.”

I’ve never personally had a family member who I helped through probate tell me it was “easy.”

What’s missing from this equation is that probate is a public court process so anyone can see your Last Will and everything else filed with the court – including your children’s names and ages and what they’ve inherited. Probate also leaves oversight and potentially decision-making in the hands of a stranger (the judge) versus someone you love and trust with the court looking over their shoulder. Plus probate expenses can really add up over time, depleting what you’d otherwise leave behind for your children.

“Living Trusts unnecessarily expose your assets to creditors.” Having a Living Trust does not do anything additional to expose your assets to any other liabilities you may already have or face anyway.

“Living Trusts increase taxes and delays.” If you have a Revocable Living Trust, nothing changes about your income tax liability or the tax return you file each year; everything is the same as before. Also, because a Living Trust is private and the court isn’t involved, the Successor Trustee can immediately step in and handle assets and debts without delay. Without a Living Trust, your family has to get court approval first.

“Courts are declaring Living Trusts invalid.” If a Living Trust is properly drafted and executed with a trusted estate planning attorney, there is no reason to fear a court striking down the Trust as invalid.

No estate planning tool is all-or-nothing. The type of plan that is right for you depends on many factors including whether you have minor children, own your home, own investment properties, have retirement accounts, have life insurance, owe more than you own, and more.

Beware of extreme beliefs or cure-all approaches! Listen to your gut when meeting with an estate planning attorney to make sure it’s a right fit for you and your family.