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For those who attend my presentations, I offer a free, no obligation estate planning audit. There are three reasons for the audit.

First, we discuss the issues/questions important to that person or couple. Second, we discuss what is accomplished with their current estate plan. Finally, we discuss whether that plan addresses the issues of concern to them.

Often these individuals have a trust (not always created by an attorney), but have no idea why. Perhaps they were told a trust would help them avoid going through “probate,” but they are not sure what they are avoiding.

If I am asked to review their trust, there are times I cannot tell why they have a trust. Indeed, sometimes the trust is nothing more than a form with names plugged in.

This is very disappointing, because if a trust is properly drafted and addresses a legitimate need, it can be an immensely powerful instrument. However, if a trust is created from a form, its usefulness is likely to be very limited. Even worse, trusts used in this way can be used to take advantage of people, making them think they are receiving something they are not.

A trust can be compared to a motor vehicle. There are many models and, depending on the need, different models accomplish different things. A driver would not use a sports car to reach remote places. It is the wrong vehicle for that purpose. And there is no vehicle that can do everything for everyone. The same is true for trusts. There is no form (on the internet or anywhere else) that can meet everyone’s needs. However, a trust drafted to address specific needs can be incredibly effective.

If you are considering a trust, it is entirely fair to ask if the drafter is simply using a form. You are also entitled to know exactly what benefit the trust is providing you. Ask these questions. If you are not satisfied with the answers, a trust may not be the right vehicle for you; or you should find someone who can draft the trust that addresses the issues that do matter to you.