It was recently revealed that approximately 180 former University of North Carolina basketball players received a surprise check and letter in the mail from their former coach, Dean Smith. The late coach left $200 to each of his former lettermen with a note inviting them to “enjoy a dinner out courtesy of Coach Smith.” So how did Coach Smith make sure his estate plan accounted for these generous payouts? He utilized a revocable trust and you could too.

Trusts are not just for the wealthy. Revocable trusts in particular provide flexibility and privacy, as well as a vehicle to manage your assets upon incapacity or death, no matter what size of an estate you are expecting.

Unlike wills, which are a part of the public record, revocable trusts keep your estate planning details private by avoiding a public court proceeding at death, known as probate. Coach Dean Smith’s payouts to his former lettermen only became public when the recipients shared the details with the press. Probate can also be expensive and time consuming, so by transferring and titling your property into a revocable trust you can also save your survivors time and money.

A revocable trust allows more flexibility than a will. When a revocable trust is funded, those trust assets remain yours. This allows you to change, amend, or even revoke your trust whenever you desire. Then upon your death or incapacity, the terms of your revocable trust will control how your assets will continue to be managed or, possibly, distributed to your beneficiaries. In the case of incapacity, a revocable trust allows a trustee to manage your assets for your benefit, instead of needing to have a guardian appointed. Upon your death, a trustee can continue to hold and manage your property, instead of needing to distribute it immediately.

Revocable trusts also afford flexibility in the selection of a trustee. State laws that dictate who may serve as a trustee do not apply to revocable trusts – you can select any individual or institution you desire.  With a trust asset like a vacation home, personal residence, or closely held business, you may wish to select a successor trustee who has knowledge of your personal beliefs, feelings and wishes.  Or instead, you could appoint an institutional trustee, but utilize what is called a “directed trusteeship,” which allows you to divide up the trust’s management responsibilities among several people and/or institutions.  You could have a third party (e.g. a friend, business partner, or family member) who has previously been involved in the management of that asset still be involved in the management of that particular asset within the trust, while keeping an institutional trustee as the acting trustee.

A revocable trust solves problems that affect both small and large estates.  It minimizes the expense, lack of privacy and lengthy process that plague probate, while also providing a vehicle to hold and manage your assets upon your incapacity or death. For all of these reasons, it is worthwhile to consider how a revocable trust could fit into your legacy plan.