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Revocable Trust vs. Irrevocable Trust... What's the Difference?

So, what’s the difference between a revocable trust and an irrevocable trust? It may seem obvious at first, and in a way, it is. A revocable trust can be changed, amended, or revoked altogether, whereas an irrevocable trust can’t be changed or revoked. With a revocable trust, the creator can typically access the assets held in the trust, but access to assets held in an irrevocable trust is strictly limited. But when is one used as opposed to the other and why?  

Revocable trusts are most often created simply to avoid probate, the expensive and time-consuming court process usually required to transfer a decedent’s assets to their beneficiaries. I usually recommend revocable trusts because it’s important that my clients, while avoiding probate, also have the ability to amend their trust if necessary, for example, to change their mind about how assets are distributed or who should make distribution. It’s also important that my clients have absolute access to their assets during their lifetimes. Upon death, however, even a revocable trust usually becomes irrevocable so beneficiaries can’t change the way assets are then distributed.

Irrevocable trusts, on the other hand, are often created to protect assets from unknown judgment creditors. In short, if the trust creator can’t access the assets in the irrevocable trust, neither can a judgment creditor. Irrevocable trusts are also used in the context of Medicaid planning. If assets are placed into a Medicaid planned irrevocable trust far enough in advance, the creator can still qualify for Medicaid (long-term care benefits) and, in many cases, still transfer protected assets to their beneficiaries when they die. When creating an irrevocable trust, however, it’s very important to name a trustee who can be trusted to manage the trust’s affairs as intended and authorize distribution in appropriate situations.

If we can help you better understand the differences between a revocable trust and an irrevocable trust, or provide you with information or assistance concerning the preparation of your own estate plan, please contact us at (813) 244-7758 or


Ross Spano

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