Wills and trusts are common documents used in estate planning. While each can help in the distribution of assets at death, there are important differences between the two.
What Is a Will? A last will and testament is a legal document that lets you direct how your property will be dispersed (among other things) when you die. It becomes effective only after your death. It also allows you to name a personal representative (executor) as the legal representative who will carry out your wishes.
What Is a Trust? A trust is a legal relationship in which you, the grantor or trustor, set up a trust, which holds property managed by a trustee for the benefit of another, the beneficiary. A revocable living trust is the type of trust used most often as part of a basic estate plan. “Revocable” means you can make changes to the trust or even revoke it at any time.
A living trust is created while you’re living and takes effect immediately. You may transfer title or ownership of assets, such as a house, boat, automobile, jewelry, or investments, to the trust. You can add assets to the trust and remove assets thereafter.
How Do They Compare? While both a will and a revocable living trust enable you to direct the distribution of your assets and property to your beneficiaries at your death, there are several differences between these documents. Here are some important ones.
Different Documents, Different Features
Even if you have a revocable living trust, you should have a will to control assets not captured in the trust.
*Depends on applicable state laws.
It cannot govern the distribution of assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract (such as life insurance, annuities, and employer retirement plans) or by law (such as property held in joint tenancy).
Generally, most estate plans that use a revocable trust also include a will to handle the distribution of assets not included in the trust and to name a guardian for minor children. In any case, there are costs and expenses associated with the creation and ongoing maintenance of these documents. Keep in mind that wills and trusts are legal documents generally governed by state law, which may differ from one state to the next. You should consider the counsel of an experienced estate planning professional and your legal and tax advisers before implementing a trust strategy.