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What are some of the ways a trust can be an effective estate planning instrument?

A Trust, if properly drawn and "funded", can be extremely helpful in many situations such as:

(1) to avoid a conservatorship. If property is held in a Trust, a successor Trustee can step in and take over management, without the delay and expense of going to court to appoint a "conservator" to manage the property, if the Trust Creator becomes disabled.

(2) to avoid probate. A properly drawn Trust is a separate entity that does not die when the creator dies. The successor Trustee can take over management of the Trust estate and pay bills and taxes, and promptly distribute the Trust assets to the beneficiaries, without court supervision, if the Trust agreement gives the Trustee that power.

(3) maintaining privacy. Trusts, unlike Wills, are generally private documents. Your neighbors and the public would be able to see and how much you had and who your beneficiaries were under a Will, but usually not with a Trust.

(4) help keep certain property separate from other property. For example, if you want your daughter to get your vacation home, and your son to get your house in the suburbs, if you create a separate Trust for each property there would be no question of commingling or who gets what.

In many estate plans, the Trust is the central tool that is used to control and manage property. A Trust continues despite the incapacity or death of the grantor. It determines how a Trustee is to act with respect to the Trust estate. It determines how property is to be distributed after the death of the grantor. A Trust is thus one of the major estate planning tools used for a grantor's property so that court interference in the event of incapacity or death can be dramatically reduced (if not completely eliminated).

Trust definitions provided by http://law.freeadvice.com/estate_planning/trusts/estate_planning.htm