Should I Choose a Will or a Trust?

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A last will and testament and a revocable living trust are both effective estate planning tools.

Estate planning does not look the same for everybody.

The lives of singles look vastly different than those of married couples.

It only makes sense their estate plans would also look different.

According to a recent The News-Enterprise article titled “Personal needs, preferences drive estate planning,” more distinctions beyond marital status exist when it comes to estate planning.

The choose between a will and a trust can feel overwhelming.
Looking at your goals and circumstances can help you choose between a trust and a last will and testament.

People vary in wealth, number of children, age of children, quality of relationships with loved ones, and personal preferences.

Any number of these factors can impact whether people choose to utilize a last will or a revocable living trust (RLT) as the foundation of their estate planning.

What are the distinctions between these documents?

A last will becomes effective only after the person who created it has died and the document has been filed and approved by the local probate court.

The document is usually filed by the person listed as the executor (also known as a personal representative) in the document itself.

The executor is responsible for following instructions in the last will in keeping with the local laws.

This individual will accomplish such tasks as paying debts, selling property, and eventually distributing assets as provided in the last will and approved by the judge.

A last will can govern the distribution of assets owned by the person who created the last will, but it does not have authority over assets held in a RLT or jointly owned property.

Because the “goings on” in probate are a matter of public record, the last will and details surrounding the “estate” can be accessed by anyone.

Depending on what a person includes in the last will, others may be able to identifying the value of your property and any listed assets.

If privacy is an important personal preference for you, an estate planning attorney will often recommend a RLT.

Because these documents do not need to be filed with the courts, they keep your affairs free from curious or greedy eyes.

Unlike a last will, a RLT can be functional while you are alive.

While the executor is responsible for a last will, the trustee of a RLT must manage the trust assets according to the instructions in the RLT.

If the RLT says assets should be distributed to beneficiaries immediately after your death, the trustee does not have to wait for probate.

Often more control over assets and their distribution can be applied with a RLT .

If you want certain funds to be used for college education or only after specific milestones, you can do this.

Although a RLT is created and effective before a person dies, a “testamentary trust” can be created after death through instructions in the last will as an alternative to outright distributions.

You and your family have your own circumstances and goals to address in your estate planning.

Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you create an estate plan to best address those unique circumstances and satisfy your goals.

ReferenceThe News-Enterprise (Nov. 12, 2022) “Personal needs, preferences drive estate planning”

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