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Living Trusts
In a living trust, assets including savings accounts, real estate and securities are put into a trust while the owner is still alive. Legal title to the assets is transferred to a trustee, and the owner can name himself or herself the trustee. The trust contains instructions for handling assets during the owner's lifetime and distributing them after death. There are two types of trusts, revocable and irrevocable. A revocable trust can be changed or abolished at any time during the owner's lifetime. An irrevocable trust cannot be recalled or revoked after its creation. Living trusts are a way to avoid probate, the procedure which determines the distribution of a deceased person's property, whether or not there is a will. A living trust avoids probate because at the time of death, the deceased no longer owns the assets, the trust does. Only property in the deceased's name must go through probate. Probate may be a costly, time-consuming process, although that is not necessarily true. However, salespeople, who sometimes call themselves "financial planners", may describe living trusts as a magical cure for all estate planning, making probate appear to be an expensive and agonizing process. Often, the do-it-yourself kits are nothing more than form-letter documents which do not automatically transfer assets into the trust, and may have no standing in court. In some cases, sales pitches and seminars require consumers to sign contracts on the spot and write checks for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to establish a living trust. Laws, costs and time affecting both probate and trusts vary from state to state and consumers should contact an attorney in whom they have confidence to discuss their personal situation BEFORE assuming obligation by signing a contract. In some cases, a living trust may not be a good option and in other cases, it may be a viable option. Consumers interested in living trusts should be careful of spurious offers and extravagant promises, and take time to verify the reliability of the firm making the offer.
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