As a Kitsap County estate planning attorney, I am often asked this question: What is a revocable living trust?

Before I can answer this, I must first explain what a trust is. Traditionally, a trust is used to give property to another “with strings attached.” For example, if you want your life insurance proceeds to benefit your children, but have concerns they may not be mature enough to handle a lot of money, you can set up a trust designating a trustee with power to manage the life insurance proceeds for your children. Then, when your children are old enough, the trust will terminate and your children will have full access to the remaining funds. In this common scenario, there are three parties: you as the trustor, your children as the beneficiaries, and your appointed trustee.

A typical revocable living trust is different in that the roles are merged somewhat. You actually appoint yourself as your own trustee, and in that role you have broad authority to manage your property during your lifetime. You also dictate who the beneficiaries are after your death, much like a will. Hence, you are both the trustor and the trustee, and your designated heirs are the beneficiaries. You also retain the right to cancel the trust at any time during your lifetime.

If you are married, typically both spouses are designated co-trustees, and the beneficiaries only receive your property after the death of the second spouse.

Admittedly, this arrangement is a pure legal fiction, at least during your lifetime. But it has very tangible benefits.  In my next blog post, I’ll explain what those benefits are. I’ll also explain why I and other Kitsap County estate planning attorneys will tell you that a revocable living trust is not for everyone.