Revocable trusts are becoming increasingly more popular. For some people, the reality of handling a loved one’s laborious probate causes them to want to avoid that process for their own families. For others, special planning needs lead them to find the least invasive options.

There are many benefits to creating a revocable living trust, but the primary benefits are threefold: privacy, efficient distribution of assets to beneficiaries and a single tool to receive assets.

First, a revocable living trust is completely private. Probate, on the other hand, is a public matter. Anyone can view a decedent’s will online through the clerk’s office or simply go to the county government center and ask to see the file. It would include beneficiary information as well as lists of assets with values.

Although some people simply prefer their assets and debts remain private, for others the privacy is a protection for the beneficiaries. Some beneficiaries in particular are vulnerable and need to maintain privacy. For example, beneficiaries with mental health problems or addiction concerns should have special provisions which determine how they receive property. Allowing this information to be public could be embarrassing to the beneficiary.

Secondly, because a revocable living trust bypasses probate proceedings, it usually allows for a much more efficient distribution of assets to beneficiaries.

Probate has certain required timelines, particularly when the decedent owned real estate. Inventories must be filed, court dates must be scheduled according to the court’s calendar and the judge finally must sign off on the distribution before the case can be closed.

Further, a revocable living trust does not freeze upon the death of the grantor. When a person dies, any property owned solely in his or her name must freeze until someone has opened a probate proceeding and been appointed as executor or administrator.

This is necessary because during our own lives, we have the ability to transfer property, but upon our deaths, only the court has the power to move someone’s property or to grant the fiduciary the right to do so.

However, a revocable living trust is an instrument, not a person, and cannot die. Instead, the successor trustee (the trust manager) simply steps in as the acting trustee and begins handling the business of the trust.

This efficiency is helpful for any class of beneficiaries, but is usually most helpful for beneficiaries with urgent needs and for those who may find it more inconvenient to handle a probate case.

Thirdly, a revocable living trust provides a good mechanism to receive payable-on-death proceeds, such as life insurance. This can be incredibly useful for those with a larger number of beneficiaries and for those who intend to distribute over time rather than immediately.

Life insurance proceeds can pour into the trust, allowing the trustee to pay necessary expenses first, then distributing to each beneficiary according to the instructions.

The trust also should include instructions for handling distributions in case the beneficiary is disabled in order to protect important public benefits, whereas a life insurance policy would not.

Because revocable living trusts allow the grantors to maintain control during their lifetimes, they can be a powerful estate planning tool.

Consider using a revocable living trust to ensure private, efficient distributions to beneficiaries in the way that you choose.

Cynthia T. Griffin is an elder law and estate planning attorney at Burnett and Griffin PLLC in Elizabethtown. She can be reached at

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