Which is better, a will or a living trust? Some restaurants send me invitations to a lunch where this will be explained, but I don’t go because I fear being coerced into signing something.

You’re right to be wary of a “free” lunch that includes a marketing pitch for financial or legal products and services.

A living trust is more expensive than a will. You transfer all your assets into the trust, naming your heirs as trust beneficiaries. (The trust is revocable, so you can change it anytime you want.) As trustee, you still control these assets. You still own them for tax purposes. They’re still vulnerable to your creditors, and your Medicaid eligibility is unchanged. And you still need a will to leave assets not easily transferred to a trust, like your car and your stamp collection.

The pitch is that trusts aren’t subject to probate, the process in which a court validates a will. But for many families, probate’s no big deal. First, jointly owned assets and assets with named beneficiaries (like retirement accounts and life insurance) don’t go through probate anyway. Second, in New York, unlike some other states, probate isn’t expensive and time-consuming. It usually takes only a few weeks, and probate filing fees are modest. Finally, contrary to popular belief, the trust doesn’t reduce the cost of administering your estate, or its tax liability.

So when might a living trust make sense? If you want a co-trustee to help manage your affairs during your lifetime; if you own out-of-state real estate and don’t want your survivors to have to go through probate in more than one state; or if you’re anxious to maintain postmortem privacy, because unlike wills, trusts aren’t public documents.

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THE BOTTOM LINE Living trusts are aggressively marketed to many people who don’t need them.

WEBSITES WITH MORE INFORMATION

nclc.org/search.html

elderlawanswers.com/beware-living-trust-scams-1110