Among estate planning tools, the two most common are wills and trusts. Both accomplish similar things, yet serve entirely different purposes, and can even be used in conjunction with one another. A simplified approach to the topic might lead you to believe that wills are easy and cheap, and trusts are more complex and expensive – but there is a broader picture to consider.
Both last wills and trusts are designed to leave behind instructions that can be clearly interpreted as your own, allowing a designated individual to organize the distribution of your remaining wealth after you have passed on. But there are things a will can do that a trust cannot, and things a trust can do that a will cannot.
A last will and testament is a document that details how you wish your estate to be distributed after you pass away. A will has certain limits, but it can be best described as a set of instructions.
A last will and testament will often list one or more executors – these are administrators who are tasked with overseeing the resolution/execution of the will. A chosen executor can refuse the job, at which point another may be chosen. If a person is listed as executor but found incompetent by a probate court, they may assign someone else instead.
Probate is one of the biggest differences between wills and trusts. The probate process begins once a loved one or an attorney presents the death certificate of the decedent to the local probate courts.
Once probate begins, the courts will determine the legitimacy of the will (and provide an opportunity for others to come forward with any evidence to challenge the will) and assign an executor to go through with fulfilling the will’s instructions. If no will exists, or if the only existing will is found to be fraudulent/invalid, then the decedent will have died ‘intestate’, at which point the state’s intestate laws decide how any remaining property and assets will be distributed.
A trust is different from a will. A trust is a separate entity that holds property ‘in trust’, as per a legal agreement called a trust document. Trusts involve three parties – the grantor (you), the successor trustee (the administrator of the trust), and the beneficiaries.
A person can have several trusts, but only one valid will. Unlike a will, a trust can be used to exercise much greater control over how property is distributed when you die, and anything funded into a trust also automatically bypasses probate. However, because trusts are a little more complex and usually involve more complex instructions, they are more expensive to manage.
There are a variety of advantages to having a trust. They include:
There are disadvantages to having a trust, as well:
While wills are simpler, there are things they can do that trusts cannot:
There are disadvantages, as well:
Every estate plan should be built with only the estate in mind. Estate plans should be tailored to the individual, rather than being built off of simplistic templates and generalized do-it-yourself forms.
Much like a symphony, this can be a large-scale work, meant to address a variety of issues such as properties across multiple estates, an estate total that exceeds the federal estate tax limit, specific healthcare considerations that call for an estate plan that can go into effect upon mental incapacity rather than death, timeshares and other complex ownership issues, and more.
Sometimes, estates are small and simple, and easily resolved. Other times, they require an estate plan that matches their complexity. Rather than simply choosing between a will and an estate, consider a consultation with an estate planning professional to better understand what kind of plan best matches your circumstances.
Founded in 1975 by L. Rob Werner and serving California for over 48 years, our dedicated attorneys are available for clients, friends, and family members to receive the legal help they need and deserve. You can trust in our experience and reputation to help navigate you through your unique legal matters.
Whether you need help creating a living trust or navigating probate, our living trust law firm's compassionate team of estate planning lawyers and probate lawyers are here to help you and ready to answer your questions.
Our goal is to make your case as easy as possible for you. Hiring a lawyer can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. From the moment you contact our firm, through the final resolution of your case, our goal is to make the process easy and understandable. We cannot change the fact that probate is a long and complicated process, but through our Werner Law Firm Difference, we strive to go out of our way to keep you informed of your case through every step of the way. We are constantly refining our processes and procedures for a more streamlined and calm client experience. Our goal is to have you feel like a burden was lifted from your shoulders, and that we made the whole process an easy one
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