Will vs Trust: Which is the Better Option for Your Estate Planning Needs

Will vs Trust: Which is the Better Option for Your Estate Planning Needs

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how unpredictable life can be and reminded many of the importance of end-of-life preparation. Estate planning has become a critical aspect of managing affairs. It involves making important decisions about assets and how one would want them distributed after passing away. However, studies show that many Americans still do not have an estate plan, leaving their loved ones vulnerable to financial and legal challenges.

Keeping your assets organized can significantly help the loved ones you will be leaving behind. However, despite the increasing awareness about the importance of managing your estate, reports show that 67% of Americans still need to prepare estate plans. This statistic is a worrying subject, especially since having an estate plan is the best way to protect your assets.

According to a 2022 survey, 46% of respondents said they needed to gain knowledge about estate planning and had not gotten around to it. Estate planning can seem daunting and overwhelming, but it is a crucial process that provides peace of mind and security for you and your loved ones.

This article will explore everything one needs to know about estate planning, trusts, and wills. It will discuss the importance of estate planning, explain the differences between trusts and wills, and provide guidance on creating an effective estate plan, including tips on organizing assets, minimizing taxes, and avoiding legal challenges. By the end of the article, readers will better understand estate planning and how to ensure that assets are distributed according to one’s wishes.

Overview of Wills and Trusts

Wills and trusts are two of the most common options in estate planning, and they are essential components of trusts and estates law. Both tools are crucial for individuals who want to ensure their assets are managed following their wishes after their demise. They also offer a way to minimize taxes and avoid legal challenges that can arise when an estate needs to be properly planned.

Choosing between a will and a trust depends on several factors. Understanding how each works lets you determine the best option for your estate planning needs.

Definition of a Will

If you have a specific person in mind who you want to inherit your assets, then a will is the way to go. You can use it to transfer the ownership of your tangible and intangible assets to the beneficiary you have specified.

A will typically include details on the property you want to transfer, the identity of the beneficiary, and any other legal information that may be necessary. It needs to be signed and witnessed by two people and stored safely with easy access for executors after your passing.

Definition of a Trust

A trust is a legal document outlining an individual’s wishes to distribute their assets after death. It allows an individual to name an executor to manage their estate and beneficiaries who will receive specific assets or amounts.

The trust also provides power to individuals to maintain control over their estate after death, ensuring that assets will be used for their intended purpose. It is often more favorable than a will, as it can provide tax and legal benefits.

How a Will and Trust Work

A will and a trust are two different legal documents that operate differently. A will is a legal document outlining an individual’s wishes to distribute their assets after death. Once the individual passes away, their will goes through a legal process known as probate, during which the court oversees the distribution of the assets according to the individual’s wishes. The probate process can take several months or even years, depending on the complexity of the estate and any legal challenges that arise.

On the other hand, a trust is a legal arrangement in which an individual transfers their assets to a trustee who will manage and distribute them according to the individual’s instructions. Trust can be created during an individual’s lifetime or through their will. Suppose the trust is created during the individual’s lifetime. In that case, it is a living trust, and the individual can serve as the trustee and retain control over their assets. If the trust is created through the individual’s will, it is known as a testamentary trust, and the trustee will be appointed after the individual’s death.

Pros and Cons of Each

When deciding between a will and a trust, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons of each option. Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of wills and trusts:

Pros of Wills

  • Simplicity: Wills are typically less complicated and easier to create than trusts.
  • Flexibility: Wills can be updated and amended to reflect changing circumstances or preferences.
  • Affordability: Wills are generally less expensive to create than trusts.

Cons of Wills

  • Probate: Wills must go through the probate process, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
  • Lack of privacy: The probate process is a public proceeding, which means that the details of an individual’s estate may become part of the public record.
  • Limited control: Wills offer little control over the distribution of assets, particularly if the individual has complex assets or wishes.

Pros of Trusts

  • Avoidance of probate: Assets in a trust do not go through probate, which can save time and money.
  • Greater control: Trusts offer greater control over the distribution of assets, allowing individuals to specify how and when their assets should be distributed to their beneficiaries.
  • Privacy: Because assets in a trust do not go through probate, the details of an individual’s estate can remain private.

Cons of Trusts

  • Complexity: Trusts are typically more complicated and require more time and expense than wills.
  • Cost: The cost of creating and administering a trust can be higher than that of a will.
  • Limited flexibility: Once assets are transferred to a trust, they are no longer under the individual’s direct control and cannot be easily changed or revoked.

Understanding Wills

To create a valid will, you must learn the elements required by law. Knowing a will’s essentials helps ensure that your assets are distributed accordingly. Here is some information you should consider when writing your will:

Types of Wills

There are several types of wills, including simple, pour-over, joint, and living. A simple will is a basic document that outlines an individual’s wishes to distribute their assets. A pour-over will is used with a trust and directs any assets not included in the trust to be transferred to the trust upon the individual’s death. A joint will is a document that outlines the wishes of two individuals, typically spouses, for the distribution of their assets. A living will, also known as an advanced healthcare directive, is a legal document that outlines an individual’s wishes regarding medical treatment if they cannot make those decisions themselves.

How To Create a Will

man signing a last will document

Creating a will involves the following steps:

  1. Determine what assets you want to include in your will.
  2. Decide who you want to name as beneficiaries and how your assets will be distributed.
  3. Work with an attorney or use a reputable online service to draft your will.
  4. Sign and date your will in the presence of witnesses who can attest to your mental capacity and the document’s validity.

Understanding Trusts

A trust might require additional steps to create compared to a will, but it can provide more control over the distribution of assets. Here is what you need to know about trusts and the steps involved in creating one.

Types of Trusts

One of the most common types of trust is a revocable trust, also known as a living trust. Many try to compare revocable trust vs. living trust, but the two are actually the same. A revocable trust allows the settlor to retain control over the assets in the trust and change the terms of the trust as needed. A living trust is a revocable trust that goes into effect during the settlor’s lifetime and can provide for the management of assets in the event of incapacity.

Other types of trusts include irrevocable trusts, which cannot be changed once established, and testamentary trusts, which are created through a will and go into effect after the settlor’s death.

How To Set up a Trust?

Setting up a trust involves the following steps:

  1. Determine what assets you want to include in the trust.
  2. Choose a trustee who will be responsible for managing the assets in the trust.
  3. Determine who the beneficiaries of the trust will be and how the assets will be distributed to them.
  4. Work with an attorney or use a reputable online service to create the trust document.
  5. Transfer the assets into the trust.
  6. Follow any additional steps required by state law to establish the trust.

What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Trust?

The main difference between a trust and a will is how and when they go into effect. A will only go into effect after the person who made it, known as the testator, has passed away. On the other hand, a trust can go into effect immediately or after the settlor passes away. Other key differences between a will and a trust include the following:


The cost to set up a trust can be more expensive than creating a will, as it typically involves more time and legal fees. It can range between a few hundred dollars to several thousand. A will may be a more cost-effective option for those with smaller estates. Common fees associated with will include attorney’s fees, court filing fees, and probate costs, which can be around 3% of the total value of the estate.

Control Over Assets

A will only allow the testator to control the distribution of their assets after they have passed away. On the other hand, a trust can provide ongoing management of assets during the settlor’s lifetime, including in the event of incapacity or disability.


A will is a public document that must go through the probate process, which can be time-consuming and costly. A trust can be a private document, and assets held in a trust may avoid the probate process altogether.

Probate Process:

the word probate on a stamp

A will must go through the probate process, which can be a lengthy and expensive legal process. A trust can avoid probate, which can save time and money for the beneficiaries.


A trust can provide more flexibility than a will in terms of how assets are distributed and managed. A trust can include specific instructions for how assets should be distributed, as well as conditions for how and when beneficiaries can receive them.

Is a Trust Better Than a Will?

Whether a trust is better than a will depends on individual circumstances. Both trust and a will have their advantages and disadvantages, and what works best for one person may not work best for another. It’s important to consult with an attorney or financial advisor to determine which option is right for you.

Will or Trust: Which is Right for You?

Deciding between the trust or will be a complex decision that depends on individual circumstances. There are several areas to address when making this decision.

Factors To Consider

When deciding between a trust or will, it’s essential to consider specific factors such as the size of your estate, your goals for distributing your assets, and your desire for privacy and control over your assets.

Estate Planning Goals

Your estate planning goals can also impact whether a trust or will is right for you. For example, if you have complex assets or want to provide for ongoing management of your assets, a trust may be a better option. A will may be sufficient if you have a smaller estate and simpler distribution goals.

Family Situation

same sex marriage

Your family situation can also impact your decision. For example, wills and trusts can be great options for same-sex couples who want to ensure that their assets are distributed to their partner or children. A trust can also provide ongoing management for a child or family member with special needs.

Tax Implications

Tax implications are also an important consideration when deciding between a trust or a will. For example, a trust may offer tax advantages for those with larger estates or complex assets. It’s important to consult with an attorney or financial advisor to determine the tax implications of each option.


Can I put my house in a trust without a lawyer?

It is possible to put your house in a trust without a lawyer, but it is not recommended. A trust is a legal document that requires careful drafting and execution to ensure it is valid and meets your estate planning goals.

What happens to a house in a trust after death?

What happens to a house in a trust after death depends on the terms of the trust. It may be distributed to beneficiaries, sold, or continue to be held in trust. It is important to consult with an attorney to ensure that your wishes are accurately reflected in the trust document.

Can you set up a trust without an attorney?

Setting up a trust without an attorney is possible, but it is not advisable. An attorney can help ensure that the trust is drafted correctly and in accordance with state laws. They can also guide how to best structure the trust to meet your estate planning goals.

Does a will override a trust?

A will does not override a trust. The terms of the trust dictate how assets are distributed, while a will applies to assets not held in the trust. It is important to consult with an attorney who can explain the differences and advise which option is best for you.

Deciding between a trust or will your estate plan is a complex decision. The above information provides an overview of the key differences between wills and trusts and the factors to consider when making this decision. It is important to speak with an attorney or financial advisor to ensure that your estate plan meets your needs and is drafted accurately. With the right legal guidance, you can create an effective and comprehensive estate plan that will help ensure your assets are distributed as you wish.

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