Do I need a trust?

A trust is a legal relationship you create between people and your property. You name a trustee who manages the property and uses it for your beneficiaries. When you do that, you set the terms: what your trustee can and can’t do, what your beneficiaries can and can’t do, who gets the property, and when.

The trust most used for estate planning is the revocable living trust. With this trust, you are the trustee and retain complete control over the property­—but after death, your trust controls what happens instead of a will. This means the property doesn’t have to go through probate.

You do not need a trust if you’re okay with your property and family going through probate. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If you do want to avoid probate, you have two main options: use a trust, or use a combination of beneficiary designations, pay-on-death and transfer-on-death designations, and joint ownership.

TrustPOD/TOD Designations
Avoids probateAvoids probate
One document to rule them all; changes easily madeAdded to each account or property piecemeal; changes are a headache
Typically requires a lawyerDoes not require a lawyer
Estate plan with trust costs moreEstate plan without trust costs less
One person in charge of administration after your deathEach beneficiary must do their own paperwork and coordinate with others
Can put a responsible person in charge of distributions to beneficiaries who are young, disabled, or addictedDistributions happen immediately and outright, even if a beneficiary is young, disabled, or addicted
Works for estates of all sizesBest for estates that are smaller or that have a small number of accounts and beneficiaries

Few people truly need a trust. But if avoiding probate is important, you like the simplicity of having one document and one person governing your estate, and you’re willing to pay more and work more now to save time and money for your family later, then you should consider a trust.