Revocable Living Trusts – “All is fair in love and war”

The quote used in the title of this blog entry is often incorrectly attributed to William Shakespeare.  However, it is John Lyly, an English dramatist and writer who first coined the phrase. It means that in matters of war and love, there are ‘no holds barred,’ and that an individual should not be blamed for acting in their own interest. Their actions, no matter how deceitful or morally wrong, are justified as a means to an end.

“All is fair in love and war” is how I begin my conversations with clients regarding their estate planning. Family members, once amenable to one another become hostile antagonists. The system of probate court, established to protect the creditors and the heirs of an estate, becomes a party to an industry which preys upon individuals at their weakest moments.

Forgive the pun, but allow me to set the stage. There are two basic forms of estate planning in the United States: will based or trust based. Trust based plans are private and will based plans are public, and ‘there’s the rub.’ A will is published as part of the probate process. It discloses how much you have left behind and to those who will receive it. If a beneficiary of the estate is not satisfied, they may contest the will, which can be costly. The mere threat of a contest is often an analogue to blackmail.  Alas, “all is fair in love and war.”

Act II of our drama begins in the lobby of a law firm. Recently, I was early for an appointment and picked up a copy of that state’s Bar Journal. I always enjoy reading ads in journals because it allows me to better understand the readership. On the back of this particular journal was the following advertisement: a photograph of an automobile accident; a police officer writing a citation; a 20 something driver who looked as if she could barely support herself; and the caption: “You might think that suing her could be a waste of your time and your client’s resources, that is until you discover that she just inherited $2,000,000.”

Most people do not know that estate inventories and wills are available for your area. You can call 1-800-very-bad for subscription information. These lists are also provided to financial services firms and marketing organizations. And yes, it is legal, because “all is fair in love and war!”

The good news is that there are two forms of estate planning. A trust based plan utilizes a revocable living trust. Unlike a will, a revocable trust is private and the amount you left behind, and to whom you left it, is not revealed, because the assets in the trust do not pass through probate. You do have a choice, even if “all is fair in love and war.”



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