Will vs. trust: What’s the difference?

If you find yourself balancing the demands of both your career and family obligations, you likely have dual objectives in mind – securing funds for your children’s education and saving for your retirement. However, amid these priorities, it’s crucial not to overlook another significant goal: establishing an estate plan that safeguards your loved ones, enables financial management in the event of your incapacitation, and ensures the legacy you envision.

Crafting a comprehensive estate plan entails creating various documents, with particular emphasis on a will and a living trust. If these legal instruments are unfamiliar to you, you might have questions such as their purpose, distinctions, and whether one or both are necessary.

Let’s delve into each:

What is a will?

A will is a vital document for anyone with dependents (and likely for many without them). It is a legal instrument expressing your desires regarding the distribution of assets and the appointment of a guardian for your minor children. In a will, you designate an executor responsible for executing and distributing your estate according to your specified instructions.

Without a will, the courts manage asset distribution, potentially deviating from your intended outcomes. Moreover, in the absence of a will, the court appoints a guardian for your minor children, a choice that might not align with your preferences.

While a will is a valuable tool in estate planning, relying solely on it has drawbacks. Probate, a time-consuming and expensive process, is typically required. Additionally, a will lacks privacy – being a public record, anyone can access information about the distribution of your assets. Unlike a living trust, a will may not incorporate provisions to minimize potential estate taxes if not drafted correctly.

It’s crucial to recognize that not all assets pass through a will. Assets like IRA proceeds, 401(k), and life insurance can bypass the will, going directly to named beneficiaries. Periodically reviewing these beneficiary designations ensures accuracy, accounting for any changes in your family situation.

What is a living trust?

Among various trusts, the revocable living trust is commonly used. “Revocable” indicates that, as the grantor, you can modify the trust’s terms at will. The key parties involved are the grantor, the trustee (responsible for managing trust assets), and the beneficiary (for whom the assets are managed).

A well-drafted living trust provides several advantages:

  • Avoidance of probate: Assets titled in the trust’s name sidestep probate, eliminating the privacy concerns associated with a public record.
  • Incapacity planning: You can appoint someone to manage your assets if you become incapacitated.
  • Specific asset distribution: You have the flexibility to detail how assets are distributed, accommodating specific goals like staggered payouts.

Establishing a living trust incurs initial costs, involving collaboration with a qualified legal professional, potential consultation with tax and financial advisors, and consideration of a professional trustee if no suitable personal choice exists.

Choosing between a will and a living trust (or both):

The decision hinges on your unique circumstances, necessitating a discussion with your estate planning attorney. With the right advisors, you can confidently make decisions that align with your family’s well-being and the legacy you wish to leave behind.

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