The difference between a revocable trust and an irrevocable trust is actually pretty simple, despite the ridiculous names: you can make changes to a revocable trust but you can't make changes to an irrevocable trust.
"Revocable" gets it name from "revoke." You can revoke a revocable trust at any time. That makes sense, right? And when you revoke a trust, you could also make a new trust to replace it. The new trust could be completely different or just a tiny bit different - essentially changing the trust you had. So you can change or get rid of your revocable trust at any time.
An "irrevocable" trust is just the opposite. You can't make any changes. The rules of the irrevocable trust are set in stone. Usually, but not always, one of the rules of this type of trust is that the assets you put into it are locked away until a certain event occurs, such as death.
Those Pesky Exceptions
Trusts have a lengthy legal history, so it should be no surprise that there are plenty of exceptions. Here are a couple of exceptions that are more common:
Irrevocable upon death. The whole point of a revocable trust is that you can make changes. But when you're not around to make changes, should other people be able to make changes to your trust? Unless your trust says otherwise, the rules of the trust are locked in upon your death.
Court Order. Judges have a pretty wide range of powers, and changes rules of an irrevocable trust is one of them. A judge might change an irrevocable trust to help your estate save on taxes or to be more fair to beneficiaries.
Power of Appointment. Most irrevocable trusts have a rule that once you put an asset into the trust, that asset has to stay there. Some irrevocable trusts have a "power of appointment." Somebody (sometimes you) can take assets out and give them to someone (sometimes yourself). Be careful, if you can take everything out of the trust willy-nilly, your irrevocable trust is probably hollow and may even be considered fraudulent in some circumstances.
Cornerstone Law, LLC does not provide legal advice through this website; legal advice, by its very nature, requires a full understanding of your personal situation and can change from jurisdiction (your location) to jurisdiction. This website does not intend to provide legal advice, but instead, provide a general background education on different legal topics. If you would like legal advice, please contact Cornerstone here.