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With a will and a moderate estate, do you even need a trust?

Readers may have a misconception that trusts are an estate-planning vehicle only for the wealthy. In addition, since the federal estate tax exemption is over $5 million, some may regard the need for the tax-saving advantages of trusts as obsolete.

First and foremost, our law firm would emphasize that trusts offer planning benefits that extend beyond the financial. If an individual does not want his or her heirs to receive a lump-sum payment or inheritance, a trust can provide payments in installments or only for specific purposes.

Trusts also provide for long-term planning. For example, an individual may want to support a surviving spouse with income from a trust, but have the principal go to children or other beneficiaries. If there’s a chance that a lump-sum payment could disqualify a surviving spouse from Medicaid or other income-based government assistance programs, a trust may also be a way to shield income from that survivor. 

Trusts are also a way to ensure that financially dependent beneficiaries do not experience an interruption in payments. Probate, even if uncontested and/or expedited, may take several months due to the various administrative steps involved. In addition to the filing, probate usually requires a publication in a local paper and a hearing to be scheduled, at which any creditors would have a right to present their claims against the estate. With a trust, in contrast, the entire probate process can be bypassed. The named trustee can act according to the trust document without obtaining court approval.

Related Post: “Does filing a will in court automatically subject it to probate?” Law Offices of Frye & Vazquez, P.L., April 24, 2015 

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