Four Reasons Retirees Need a (Revocable) Trust

Just because an estate attorney or ad recommends a revocable trust doesn’t mean you actually need one. However, maybe one of the following situations applies to you.

Five hands raised with YES written on the palms.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Imagine walking into a car dealership and asking the salesperson whether you need a car. The salesperson would answer with assurance: “Of course you need a car! The only question is which one on our lot you are going to buy.”

Unfortunately, the same approach can be expected from a lot of estate attorneys. No matter who you are or what your situation, the attorney is very likely to tell you that you need a revocable trust. This is a one-size-fits-all answer, and you should proceed with caution. That said, a revocable trust often makes sense. Here are four reasons why a revocable trust may fit your situation:

1. To avoid probate

When prospective clients approach me, insisting they need a trust, it’s typically because of a good or bad experience they had because of a trust or lack thereof. Maybe a parent had a trust and things passed very smoothly. Or maybe their parents didn’t have a trust, and they had to deal with the probate courts in a tough jurisdiction. It’s either that, or they got a targeted ad on Facebook saying they should absolutely have one.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

In any case, probate avoidance is a legitimate reason to set up a trust. If you plan to pass assets through your will, it will go through probate. Probate is a court-supervised process of distributing the decedent’s assets. It can be, depending on the jurisdiction, expensive and time-consuming.

If you own assets in multiple states, this can be especially important. My office is in Virginia, but from my office window, I can see D.C. and Maryland. If I own a rental property in Maryland and die, my family will go through probate here in Virginia and ancillary probate in Maryland. A revocable trust that owns both properties solves that problem.

2. To have control

Imagine a scenario where two of your kids are great with money, but the third, not so much. You can stop imagining, as this is probably the case. It is more common than not to have kids who are going to do very different things with the same inheritance.

The most common way that revocable trusts control this challenge is to release a certain percentage of assets once the beneficiary hits certain ages. While this is most common, it is by no means the only way to solve the problem.

Along with the benefit of control comes flexibility. The trust I have in place would allow for annual distributions only up to the amount that my beneficiaries save each year. What kind of financial planner would I be if I didn’t incentivize saving?

3. To ensure privacy

Putting together an estate plan can be a very emotional process. Ideally, there won’t be too much disagreement among the parties, and you will land with a plan that executes your wishes. That said, I’m guessing you wouldn’t post that plan on social media. Your wishes are typically something you keep private except from those who have some role or benefit in the plan.

If you plan to pass assets through a will, just remember that most of the time, that will becomes public once the probate estate is closed. So, if you left one of your kids out, left your favorite a bit more or are just a private person, you may be better off with a trust.

4. To plan for incapacity

The scenario that no one expects or wants does, unfortunately, occur sometimes. If your bank accounts are titled only in your name, this can become a nightmare for simple tasks like paying your bills. A revocable trust won’t improve your situation, but it can create continuity and simplicity in managing financial matters.

In the case of the trust, you will name a successor trustee who will manage the assets in the trust according to the terms of the trust should you become incapacitated. This can happen immediately rather than going through the legal process of seeking guardianship or conservatorship.

While I believe these are four very strong reasons for drawing up a living trust, and while most of our clients do employ these instruments, they are by no means necessary for everyone. My next column: Four Reasons You Don’t Need a (Revocable) Trust.

related content


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Evan T. Beach, CFP®, AWMA®
President, Exit 59 Advisory

After graduating from the University of Delaware and Georgetown University, I pursued a career in financial planning. At age 26, I earned my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification.  I also hold the IRS Enrolled Agent license, which allows for a unique approach to planning that can be beneficial to retirees and those selling their businesses, who are eager to minimize lifetime taxes and maximize income.