Here's a typical lawyer answer - it depends:
A trust can be a powerful tool to:
- Help avoid the necessity of a probate case
- Ensure assets are distributed according to your wishes (in the manner, amount and at the time you want)
- Ensure your assets and their distribution are controlled by someone you trust
- Ensure that someone you trust is responsible for making investment and disbursement decisions
- Avoid estate taxes
- Help plan for incapacity
There are a number of situations, particularly in California, where having a trust is the best option for reducing the costs and time frame, and making sure your estate is taken care of in the way you want it to be.
Avoiding probate can often save quite a bit of time and money, and your loved ones will appreciate being able to avoid the court system (especially at a time when they are already grieving). It allows everything to be done privately, in the manner of your choosing, and helps to keep lawyers, judges, and other parties from inserting their ideas and interpretations into YOUR estate dealings.
A trust generally provides more options for leaving your assets - who you leave them to, how much you leave, when the beneficiary will receive them, and any other specific provisions that you want to put into place.
It can also allow for incapacity planning. It's hard enough to think about what will happen once we are gone, but it's almost harder to think about what will happen if we're still around but unable to manage our affairs. A trust can help with that. It allows the people you choose to take over the management of your finances, along with other everyday decisions and health care, should you be unable to. It's a valuable tool for a smooth transition in your care after your incapacity.
What it boils down to is that the answer to this question largely depends on your individual situation. It's worth talking to someone or doing some research. Take a look at your estate and learn more about what would happen after your incapacity or death to know what avenue of planning in right for you.
Not everyone needs a trust, but most people who own a home, have minor children, or want to make it very clear who their assets should go to (particularly if it is not who assets would naturally go to), absolutely need a trust. Those who want to ensure they have planned for their own incapacity would certainly benefit from a trust. A trust can be very straightforward and simple or very thorough and complicated - it depends on you!