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What trusts can do for you and yours

4. Retain control

Trusts give you the power to place conditions on inheritance. Do you want to provide for your family, but worry about the abilities of your children to manage a lump sum? Place it in a trust and relinquish control of a percentage of assets to the beneficiary at various intervals.

Gjertsen calls these controls imperative. "I don't know how many 18- or 21-year-olds save for college with some money in their pocket instead of going out and buying a car. That's where a trust has benefit over a will because you can put advance directives in there. If something happens to me, my kids don't get money until certain thresholds: 21, 30, 35 or whenever you choose."

Retaining control becomes especially important when providing for minors or someone who is not in a safe situation or is otherwise not good with money. You can earmark money for a special use or condition, such as education.

"You can put in certain directives, so-called ruling from the grave," says Gjertsen. "You don't want to be too restrictive because a lot of those cases have been knocked down in court afterward. 'My son has to have a master's degree with a 4.0 grade-point average in order to get any money.' That's not really going to happen. But it's good to have some general guidance."

5. Bypass probate

Anything you can move out of your will and into a trust will save time and money in probate procedures and costs.

"The main purpose of a revocable trust is to avoid probate," says attorney Peter Blatt, president of Blatt Financial Group in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Of course, the question always comes up: At what asset level do I need a revocable trust, or do I just need a will? Blatt explains that the answer comes down not to asset size but amount and types of assets. "The more assets you have, the more likely you are to need a revocable trust, because there is a cost associated with probating or putting assets through your last will and testament."

Saving administration expenses is only one reason to avoid probate. Jones explains that in his part of Florida, there's a growing problem with probate court backlog. "You can avoid delay by holding assets in your living trust. The trustee takes possession of the assets and immediately begins managing them. They don't have to go to the probate court for permission to begin making distributions, etc.

"Typically it costs anywhere from 1 (percent) to 3 percent of the estate in terms of probate costs," he adds. "Compare the upfront costs of having a trust drawn up to probate costs at the time of your death."

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