Estate planning is a crucial step in securing your assets and ensuring that your loved ones are well taken care of when you’re no longer around. Two common tools in estate planning are testamentary trusts and revocable living trusts. While both serve essential functions, they have distinct differences that individuals should consider when planning their estates with their estate planning attorney.

Understanding Testamentary Trusts:

What is a Testamentary Trust? A testamentary trust is a trust created through a last will and testament, hence its name. It comes into effect only after the testator’s death and provides a way to distribute assets to beneficiaries over time, managed by a trustee.

How Does a Testamentary Trust Work? Upon the testator’s passing, the will is probated, and the testamentary trust is activated. The appointed trustee then manages the assets and follows the instructions outlined in the will for distributing them to the beneficiaries.

Advantages of a Testamentary Trust:

  • Control Over Assets: The testator maintains control over their assets during their lifetime and can specify how they should be used after their passing.
  • Protection for Beneficiaries: Testamentary trusts can protect beneficiaries, particularly if they are minors or lack financial experience, by distributing assets gradually.

Considerations Before Creating a Testamentary Trust:

  • Probate Process: Since the trust is created through a will, it must go through probate, which can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Public Record: Wills are public records, so the distribution of assets becomes a matter of public knowledge.

Exploring Revocable Living Trusts:

What is a Revocable Living Trust? A revocable living trust, also known as a living trust or inter vivos trust, is created during the grantor’s lifetime. It allows the grantor to transfer assets into the trust, maintain control over them, and designate beneficiaries.

How Does a Revocable Living Trust Work? The grantor, who can also act as the trustee, transfers ownership of assets into the trust. They can modify or revoke the trust at any time during their lifetime. After the grantor’s death, the assets are smoothly transferred to the named beneficiaries.

Advantages of a Revocable Living Trust:

  • Avoidance of Probate: As the trust assets are no longer owned by the grantor personally, they do not go through the probate process.
  • Privacy: Unlike wills, living trusts are private documents, ensuring that the estate’s details remain confidential.

Considerations Before Creating a Revocable Living Trust:

  • Initial Cost: Establishing a living trust may involve more upfront costs compared to a simple will.
  • Complexity: Managing a trust requires proper organization and diligent record-keeping.

Comparing Testamentary Trusts and Revocable Living Trusts:

Legal Structure and Creation: A testamentary trust is created through a will, while a revocable living trust is established during the grantor’s lifetime. This difference affects when the trusts become active and how they are governed.

Management of Assets: In a testamentary trust, the trustee manages the assets after the testator’s death, while in a revocable living trust, the grantor can continue to manage the assets during their lifetime.

Privacy and Avoidance of Probate: Testamentary trusts become public records during probate, whereas revocable living trusts offer privacy and avoid the probate process altogether.

Flexibility and Control: Revocable living trusts provide more flexibility, allowing the grantor to modify or revoke the trust during their lifetime, while testamentary trusts are less flexible and can only be changed by altering the will.

When to Choose a Testamentary Trust:

A testamentary trust might be a suitable choice if the testator wants to retain full control of their assets during their lifetime and ensure that their beneficiaries receive the assets gradually and under specified conditions. It can be a wise option for individuals with minor children or beneficiaries in need of financial protection.

When to Choose a Revocable Living Trust:

A revocable living trust is ideal for individuals seeking to avoid probate and maintain privacy. It provides the flexibility to modify or revoke the trust, making it an attractive option for those who anticipate changes in their circumstances or estate planning goals.

Working with an Estate Planning Attorney:

The Role of an Estate Planning Attorney: Estate planning can be complex, and seeking the expertise of an estate planning attorney is beneficial. An attorney from Cary Estate Planning can guide individuals through the process, ensuring that their wishes are legally documented and carried out.

Finding the Right Attorney: When choosing an estate planning attorney, consider their experience, credentials, and reputation. It’s essential to work with someone who understands your specific needs and can tailor a plan accordingly.

The Process of Establishing a Trust: An estate planning attorney will assess your assets, family situation, and goals to recommend the most suitable trust option. They will then draft the necessary legal documents, such as the will or living trust, to formalize the plan.


In conclusion, both testamentary trusts and revocable living trusts serve important purposes in estate planning. The choice between the two depends on an individual’s specific needs and goals. While testamentary trusts provide controlled distribution over time, revocable living trusts offer privacy and avoidance of probate. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney from Cary Estate Planning in Cary is crucial to ensure that the chosen trust aligns with the testator’s intentions and provides the desired protection for beneficiaries.


  1. Can I change the terms of a testamentary trust after creating it? Yes, the terms of a testamentary trust can be changed by updating the will.
  2. Is a revocable living trust suitable for everyone? A revocable living trust is beneficial for many people, but individual circumstances vary, and it may not be the best option for everyone.
  3. What happens if I don’t create an estate plan? Without an estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to state laws, which may not align with your preferences.
  4. Can I act as the trustee of my revocable living trust? Yes, you can be the trustee of your revocable living trust, allowing you to maintain control over your assets.
  5. Is a testamentary trust subject to estate taxes? Yes, a testamentary trust is subject to estate taxes, similar to other assets in the testator’s estate.