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Revocable vs. irrevocable trust: Comparison, benefits & FAQs

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Protecting yourself and your family often takes center stage, but the spotlight can brighten when planning the future of your estate. When you're considering how to secure your financial future, create privacy for your family and control how assets are distributed, trusts can be a useful tool.

All trusts function by placing the ownership of assets into a legally created entity. A trustee manages the trust, and assets are distributed to your beneficiaries when you pass away according to the terms of the trust you created. As you plan your estate, examining the differences between revocable and irrevocable trusts can help you determine the right trust structure for your needs.

What is a revocable trust?

Revocable trusts are commonly called living trusts and are a popular estate planning option. These types of trusts are designed to hold your assets while you're alive, but you still can use and spend your assets as you normally would.

You create the trust by executing a written trust document and then transferring ownership of your assets to the trust.

There are some key features of revocable trusts:

  • They can be modified, changed, added to, or canceled at any point during your lifetime. If you change your mind, your financial circumstances change or your relationships with your loved ones change, you can adjust the trust as you see fit.
  • You can be your own trustee, managing and controlling your assets. However, you also must select a successor trustee to step in if you become incapacitated or pass away.
  • Nothing in the trust is permanent, and you can alter bequests or move assets in and out as your life circumstances change.

What is an irrevocable trust?

Irrevocable trusts are formed the same way as revocable trusts, by signing a document prepared by an estate planning attorney to create the legal entity of a trust and then transferring assets to it. However, except under specific and rare circumstances, you can't make changes to the trust once it's created.

Consider these key features of irrevocable trusts:

  • They generally cannot be changed or canceled. You should be certain about the terms when you set it up because once you do it, it's final.
  • Typically, you'll name someone other than yourself as a trustee to manage and control the assets.
  • Assets in these trusts don't count for determining Medicaid eligibility as long as assets are transferred before what is known as the "lookback period." When a person files a Medicaid application, the state looks back from the application date to see if the applicant or their spouse made any gifts during that period.
  • Creditors can't access irrevocable trust assets, even if you file for bankruptcy or have judgments issued against you.
  • The assets don't count toward your total taxable estate, so you may be able to avoid estate taxes altogether with this type of trust.

The availability of the above features will vary and should be carefully considered with an experienced estate planning attorney and tax planning advisor.

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A retired senior couple support family by babysitting. Three young children sit on their grandparents' laps. The group is reading a book together.

Do you need a will & a trust?

Legal, tax and financial professionals will recommend making a will even if you're moving all of your assets in a trust. Learn how a will and a trust can work together to protect your assets and intentions.

Dive deeper

Benefits of revocable & irrevocable trusts

Revocable and irrevocable trusts both provide worthwhile benefits like privacy, control, protection and safety:

Trusts provide privacy

Both types of trusts are private records, not public. This is in contrast to a will, which will likely become a public record when it's filed with a probate court. Therefore, with either kind of trust, no one else will know your trust's assets or beneficiaries.

Trusts avoid probate

Because a trust controls the transfer of assets after your death, no asset placed in a trust needs to go through probate. That means there is no court oversight or control. By skipping probate, you also avoid the costs and delays that can be associated with that process. The trustee follows the instructions for passing assets to beneficiaries according to the trust's terms. However, if you want to avoid both probate and estate taxes, an irrevocable trust is the option to consider.

Trusts give you creative control

When assets pass through a will, they're transferred after probate concludes. A trust, in comparison, allows you to control how and when your beneficiaries receive distributions. You can decide if assets will transfer immediately on your death, or you can set a date (such as specific birthdays) to trigger the distributions. This allows you to have some control that lasts even after you've passed away to protect and guide your loved ones. Note that a revocable trust gives you the ultimate level of control because you can make any changes you want to it during your lifetime.

Trusts protect you if you become incapacitated

Either an irrevocable trust or a revocable trust provides for a trustee who will manage your assets should you become unable to do so yourself. By having a trustee in place, you won't have to worry about who will manage your assets if something happens to you. Plus, you can avoid having a financial guardian appointed.

Trusts provide safety

Because you choose the trustee, you can ensure that someone who shares your values will manage and control the assets. Trusts are generally more difficult to contest than wills and may be more likely to withstand attempted legal challenges, so they can provide you with a sense of predictability and security.

Revocable vs irrevocable trusts comparison chart


Revocable trusts

Irrevocable trusts

Does it allow for modifications?

Flexibility to modify the trust—including terms, beneficiaries, and assets—at any time

No flexibility to modify the trust except in rare, specific circumstances


Easy to cancel entirely

Generally unable to cancel

Asset protection from creditors?



Estate tax shelter?

No estate tax shelter

Potential for estate tax shelter

Do assets count toward Medicaid eligibility?



Do you keep control of the assets?

Can keep direct control of assets, using them as you normally would

No direct control of assets; trustee decides how they're used

Can you be your own trustee?

Ability to be your own trustee

Not recommended to be your own trustee


Asset distribution avoids the probate process

Asset distribution avoids the probate process

Frequently asked questions about revocable & irrevocable trusts

Which type of trust will reduce taxes?

Because an irrevocable trust transfers assets out of your ownership and control, they are not part of your taxable estate and therefore aren't subject to estate tax. If you have assets over the gift/estate tax exemption amount ($13.61 million in 2024), an irrevocable trust can shelter assets from estate tax. Assets in revocable trusts, in contrast, are generally included in your estate and thus may be subject to estate tax.

Which trust lets you stay in control of your assets?

You can change or cancel a revocable trust during your lifetime. You can add or remove assets from the trust, change trustees, change beneficiaries, change bequests, tinker with the terms of the bequests and more. It's a living document (and legal entity) that can grow and change with you.

In contrast, once you set up an irrevocable trust (except in rare, specific circumstances), you cannot make any changes to it.

How complicated is a revocable trust to use?

Assets in a revocable trust aren't locked away forever. You can continue to use them, spend them, sell them, and add to them. But for the trust to be operational, it's crucial that you officially transfer ownership of the assets to the trust. Many people will sometimes overlook placing all their assets into the trust, which could cause unintended consequences for your beneficiaries.

Another potential complication arises from the need to administer assets within the trust. If the trust owns your asset, all business for that asset must be conducted through the trust. So, if you put your home in the trust, you'll have to change your homeowners insurance to be in the name of the trust (or at least have the trust named as an additional insured). If you wish to deposit funds into an account owned by the trust, checks must be made out in the name of the trust.

How set in stone is an irrevocable trust?

An irrevocable trust is essentially locked up and untouchable once you create it. If you change your mind or your circumstances change, you cannot cancel or revoke it. The payoff for this level of permanence is that it truly can protect your assets from creditors and potentially reduce the tax burden on your heirs.

If you had a revocable trust that gives you access to the things in the trust, the assets would be considered within your control, and creditors would be able to lay claim to them. An irrevocable trust can seem stringent, but restrictions are in place to make sure the assets are wholly protected.

Deciding which type of trust is best for you

When choosing between a revocable trust and an irrevocable trust, ask yourself several questions:

  • Do I want to be able to use or access my assets while I'm alive? If "yes," a revocable trust is your best option.
  • Do I want to be able to make changes to the trust after I create it? If "yes," a revocable trust will be the one to choose.
  • Do I want the trust to protect my assets from creditors, estate tax and Medicaid inclusion? If "yes," an irrevocable trust will provide these protections.

Both types of trusts have benefits and drawbacks, so it's important to set up the type of trust that best helps you to meet your goals. Talking over your goals with a Thrivent financial advisor along with an estate planning attorney can help you decide if a trust would be an appropriate tool. Your financial advisor will partner with Thrivent Trust Company, who offers professional trust and estate administration services.

*As long as assets are transferred before the "look back period."

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.

Trust and investment management accounts and services offered by Thrivent Trust Company are not insured by the FDIC or any other federal government agency, are not deposits or other obligations of, nor guaranteed by Thrivent Trust Company or its affiliates, and are subject to investment risk, including possible loss of the principal amount invested.

Trust and investment management accounts and services offered by Thrivent Trust Company, a subsidiary of Thrivent is the marketing name for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and an affiliate of Thrivent Investment Management Inc. Neither Thrivent Investment Management Inc., a FINRA and SIPC member, nor its associated person(s) is offering any product hereby. Certain Thrivent Investment Management Inc. associated persons refer prospective clients to Thrivent Trust Company.