Wills vs. Trusts: A Quick & Simple Reference Guide

Confused about the differences between wills and trusts?  If so, you’re not alone. While it’s always wise to contact experts like us, it’s also important to understand the basics. Here’s a quick and simple reference guide:

What Revocable Living Trusts Can Do – That Wills Can’t

  • Avoid a conservatorship and guardianship. A revocable living trust allows you to authorize your spouse, partner, child, or other trusted person to manage your assets should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. Wills only become effective when you die, so they are useless in avoiding conservatorship and guardianship proceedings during your life.
  • Bypass probate. Property in a revocable living trust does not pass through probate. Property that passes using a will guarantees The probate process, designed to wrap up a person’s affairs after satisfying outstanding debts, is public and can be costly and time consuming – sometimes taking years to resolve.
  • Maintain privacy after death. Wills are public documents; trusts are not. Anyone, including nosey neighbors, predators, and unscrupulous “charities” can discover the details of your estate if you have a will. Trusts allow you to maintain your family’s privacy after death.
  • Protect you from court challenges. Although court challenges to wills and trusts occur, attacking a trust is generally much harder than attacking a will because trust provisions are not made public.

What Wills Can Do – That Revocable Living Trusts Can’t                     

  • Name guardians for children. Only a will – not a living trust or any other type of document – can be used to name guardians to care for minor children.
  • Specify an executor or personal representative. Wills allow you to name an executor or personal representative – someone who will take responsibility to wrap up your estate after you die. This typically involves working with the probate court, protecting assets, paying your debts, and distributing what remains to beneficiaries. But, if there are no assets in your probate estate (because you have a fully funded revocable trust), this feature is not necessarily useful.

What Both Wills & Trusts Can Do:

  • Allow revisions to your document. Both wills and trusts can be revised whenever your intentions or circumstances change so long as you have the legal capacity to execute them.

WARNING: There is such as a thing as irrevocable trusts, which can only be changed under certain circumstances, using very specific methods.

  • Name beneficiaries. Both wills and trusts are vehicles which allow you to name beneficiaries for your assets.
  • Wills simply describe assets and proclaim who gets what. Only assets in your individual name will be controlled by a will.
  • While trusts act similarly, you must go one step further and “transfer” the property into the trust – commonly referred to as “funding.” Only assets in the name of your trust will be controlled by your trust.
  • Provide asset protection. Trusts, and less commonly, wills, can be crafted to include protective sub-trusts which allow your beneficiaries access but keep the assets from being seized by their creditors such as divorcing spouses, car accident litigants, bankruptcy trustees, and business failure.

All Trust Design Center estate plans use a living trust to designate who gets what when you die and a pour-over will to transfer any unfunded assets to your trust opon your death. Call us at (480) 776-6055 or click here to design your estate plan today.

About the author

Trust Design Center was founded in 2012 by Whitney L. Sorrell, Esq. of Sorrell Law Firm, PLC. After a decade of drafting customized trusts for high net worth clients, Whitney spotted a pattern in the estate plan design process and thought, "There's got to be a better way." From then on, Whitney relentlessly pursued his mission to offer personalized, affordable estate planning to the average American, a service typically reserved only for high net worth individuals.

Whitney is a member of WealthCounsel, LLC, a national network of estate planning attorneys and is a frequent author of estate planning and tax articles published in various journals; and a national presenter to attorneys and accountants on tax, business, and estate planning topics.

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