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Often clients don't understand the difference between a Living Revocable Trust and a Will.

One fundamental difference is that a Will is subject to probate whereas a Trust is not. Also, a Trust owns property whereas a Will does not. Think of a Trust as a Will that is not subject to probate.

For most of my clients I recommend a Trust instead of a Will, since a Trust can be administered at a fraction of the cost of probating a Will. However, I do so with one caveat and that is to pick your trustee carefully, because he or she will administer the Trust without court supervision or control. Thus, honesty and integrity are paramount in matters of trust administration.

Over the years I have dealt with a number of "rogue" trustees who have either mismanaged or pilfered the estate.

One recent incident comes to mind which involved a woman who was trustee of her sister's Trust. Apparently, the trustee didn't think that my client, a grandchild of the deceased, deserved the entire estate as her grandmother intended. She subsequently presented a check for two-thirds of the value of the estate to my client and kept the rest for herself so she could pay off her "credit card debt and daughter's college tuition." And although we were able to recover the money, it was costly and time consuming to do so.

So who should be the trustee of your estate, and if you are a beneficiary how do you protect yourself and the other beneficiaries from an unscrupulous and greedy trustee?

In most cases I recommend a person who also is a beneficiary of your Trust (he or she is less likely to view the Trust administration as a personal bonanza by charging exorbitant fees). Avoid selecting someone who does not relate well to the other beneficiaries or who tends to be confrontational. Further, it is not necessary to name someone "locally" as the estate can be administered readily through mail, email and fax. Finally, give some thought to naming co-trustees as a means of maintaining a system of checks and balances.

If you are the beneficiary of a Trust and you suspect that the trustee is mismanaging the Trust and/or misappropriating Trust funds (ie. breach of fiduciary duty) you should retain the services of a competent and experienced estate planning attorney. He or she will be able to procure a copy of the Trust; institute a court proceeding to force the trustee to account for the funds; and when appropriate, seek the removal of the trustee.