Probate vs. living trust

DEAR HARRY: I live in a retirement community just outside the city. Last week, a "senior adviser" gave a "seminar" on avoiding probate. It was more like a sales pitch for having his company put your assets into a living trust to save a bunch of money for your estate.

He was charging a sliding fee depending on the total of your assets. One resident raised a number of pertinent questions, and he did some hemming and hawing to answer some of them. He did not come off too well. Another resident, a retired lawyer, insisted that we get our advice from our own lawyers, because we then can get impartial treatment tailored to each individual's needs. I'd like to avoid probate, but I'm not sure. Help.

WHAT HARRY SAYS: I haven't heard much about these "avoid probators" in some time. It is rare that they will save you money unless you have a large or complicated estate. You will need a will anyway, because some assets cannot be put into a trust (an auto, for example). There are no tax advantages to the trust. Very few probate processes are time-consuming. Most probates take weeks, not years.

There are stories that wills can present possible heavy legal fees if there's some dispute among beneficiaries. This also can happen in living trusts. Although it is true that there could be a loss of privacy by probate, that would take a lot of effort on the part of a searcher. My vote: See your lawyer.


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