Why Do You Need a Living Trust


“Jarndyce and Jarndyce”

Originating in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, the phrase has come to be a stand-in for a lose-lose legal scenario as well as emblematic of the kind of corruption, greed and legal trickery which Dickens opposed so firmly throughout is works.  Appropriately enough, the case in question has to do with an argument over competing wills with a fortune at stake, and it’s the lack of clarity and greed of those involved that leads to a terrible climax and the ruin of both that fortune and many of those connected with it.

You work hard for your money.  You work hard to support and care for your family. You don’t want a “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” on your hands.

One of the most important things you can do fiscally and personally is to ensure that those you care about the most are left with something to help them along after you pass on.  While wills are standard in his regard, and have been for centuries, recently living wills have been growing in popularity.

To begin with, it’s worth asking—what is a living trust?  Simply put, a living trust is a written agreement which designates who among your family and friends will gain control of which assets upon your death.  Generally, living trusts are flexible and changeable in life—that is, you can change them as your relationships might change—and then become “irrevocable” or unchangeable after death.

So what are the advantages of a living trust?

  • PRIVACY: If privacy is overly important to you, chances are you’ll want to look into a living trust instead of a will, as living trusts are, in general, a more private affair than wills.  While exaggerated, the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case Dickens reports on was emblematic of complex legal challenges of the time over wills and inheritances, and these cases could quickly escalate, becoming all too messy and public.  We may live in a different era, but the same principle holds true today—a will can translate to a tricky, messy and public fight later on, whereas a living trust, due to the inherent flexibility and other factors, is easier to modify in a quick, efficient and private fashion.
  • COMPLEXITY: You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is a plus or not, but in many cases this is one of the better features of a living trust.  While there is certainly something to be said for the elegance of simplicity, when it comes to something as important and legalistic as a will, chances are you’ll want something which is complex, multi-layered, and able to account for a variety of eventualities.  The fact of the matter is that there are some things which require a complex, multi-layered solution, and providing for your loved ones after your death is one such example.
  • FLEXIBILITY: This is perhaps the greatest overall benefit of creating a living trust as opposed to a standard will.  A will, while modifiable in some cases, is most often seen as something more rigid and inflexible, which can cause problems down the line, especially if separate and competing wills are drawn up or the legal basis for a will is challenged, both of which occur in Dickens’ work.  By contrast, a living trust is more easily modifiable.  As it’s “revocable” while you’re alive, you can not only change what parties are entitled to what items or degree of inheritance, but do so quickly and in such a way as to ensure that your final decisions on how your fixed and liquid assets are to be managed after your death are made explicit.  Additionally, living trusts allow for a certain set of appropriations and contingent conditions which more fixed wills may sometimes overlook.
  • COST: It’s a slight point, but one worth mentioning quickly—drawing up a will can be a lengthy, costly process, whereas a living trust is likely to take less time and, as such, cost less money.
  • POPULARITY: Living trusts are becoming more and more popular as the troubles inherent in drawing up an intractable will over a longer period of time become better known and the flexibility and overall protection which a living trust affords, particularly to higher income households.