There are many schools of thoughts on the use of Revocable Trusts, also know as Living Trusts or Grantor Trusts. Some attorneys love them as a way to avoid probate; others, including myself, are more hesitant to recommend them. My hesitancy in using them stems from the fact that in New Jersey probate is usually not that difficult or expensive. (I always recommend them for my clients with property in Florida, New York or in multiple states.)
I also find that many attorneys create Revocable Trusts, but do not help their clients fund them. Unless these trusts are fully funded BEFORE you die, you have to go through probate anyway. This can double or triple the costs involved because you pay more on the front end AND when you die.
Despite my general reluctance in setting up Revocable Trusts, I can offer another good reason for setting one up – to prevent Elder Fraud. You probably see stories all the time about how a carekeeper, neighbor or other stranger is hired to look after an elderly person and then unwittingly gives away thousands of dollars for reasons that they can no longer recall.
In a worst case scenario, the elderly individuals become convinced that their children have abandoned them and change their estate planning documents to cut out their children. Occasionally, the bad caretaker, neighbor or stranger also becomes the new Power of Attorney and proceeds to spend all of the elderly person’s assets.
A way to prevent these events from happening is to create a Revocable Trust naming a trusted relative as Trustee (or as co-Trustee with the elderly individual). With a trusted relative named as Trustee or co-Trustee, money cannot be spent or given away without the trusted relative knowing about it. Moreover, the trust cannot be modified without the trusted relative becoming aware of the situation.
Even without naming a trusted relative as Trustee or co-Trustee the trust can be structured to make it more difficult to modify to change than a Will or a Power of Attorney. For example, you can have a provision in the Revocable Trust that requires certain individuals to be notified before any modifications are made. That is not the case with a Will or Power of Attorney, which can be changed on a whim and without any notice requirements.
Another way a Revocable Trust can prevent Elder Fraud is because it is just more cumbersome to deal with. So, while many attorneys, and non-attorneys, feel that they can write a Will or Power of Attorney, far fewer people want to mess with a Revocable Trust. Sometimes, there is no better way to stop a thief than to make them have to jump through some legal hoops.