Here’s something I know I have touched upon quite a few times now—wills, trusts, and, perhaps incidentally, the difference between wills and trusts.
These past discussions may already have given you a sense which between the two is the estate planning tool for you, but if you feel like you still need some light, that’s TOTALLY fine.
Today, this is exactly what we are going to have a go at!
Before we start, let me just get this out of the way—it is possible and acceptable for one to get both. In fact, many estate plans have both a will and a trust (or trusts, in some instances), precisely because these persons’ needs and circumstances call for the execution of both tools.
Do you also need BOTH a will and trust? Would one suffice? Which between the two instruments should you get? Find out, or get an idea, at least, by reading on below!
Of course, understanding the purpose of each of these estate planning instruments is vital in the decision-making process! If you want a full-on discussion, go ahead and check the clickable links here for wills and trusts, but basically:
A will is a document that outlines a person’s final wishes regarding her assets (especially regarding distribution among loved ones) after death.
A trust also works to benefit loved ones designated as beneficiaries, where one will get to choose who is in charge of certain (or all–depending on the person making it, really) assets, generally held for the benefit of someone else.
I know, I know… They don’t really seem to be two different tools at this point–what gives?!
The distinction mainly lies in the degree of control a person will have over her properties and the estate plan.
For instance, with a will, you get to decide who gets your hard-earned assets and how much each of your loved ones will receive upon death. On the flip side, with a trust, you get to control the same things... and more.
Remember that in a trust, there’s another key player involved–your trustee. This person is
whom you are to give directions to as to how you want your properties controlled (your wish is your trustee’s command!). Who gets what, how much goes to whom, when the transfer will happen, how to manage properties in the meantime…? Yup, all of these you can take charge of in a trust, through (and thanks to!) your chosen trustee.
In essence, while you are allowed some level of control in a will, with a trust, you are more able to run the show.
With that, it is important to note at this point that these two tools also differ in terms of when they will take effect.
A trust allows you a much higher degree of control over your assets, so much so that you are able to see it “come to life” during your lifetime. Unlike a will that takes effect only upon death, a trust becomes effective upon signing the agreement (and funding the trust).
This doesn’t mean that you lose the power to manage when you enter and fund the trust, though! In fact, you can still actively manage your properties with the trust in force, and while awaiting the date your assets are to pass to your chosen beneficiaries.
Planning to make the transfer effective only once your children reach a certain age? (Often the case!) Reserving the properties for their college fund? (Often the case, too!) Before this time, it is still up to you to manage the assets under the trust.
So, wait–does this mean a trust is better than a will?
Not necessarily! Because preparing a trust, obviously, involves a lot more steps–choosing a trustee, funding the trust, and the whole shebang!–than drafting a will, the latter is usually much easier to complete and put together than a trust agreement. A will normally would require less paperwork and record-keeping, so in terms of preliminaries, many would prefer a will over a trust.
Now here’s something related to the subject of preparation–how much you will have to allot and shell out in the process.
If you haven’t already guessed, trust agreements have higher upfront costs. Of course, given that a trust is a bit more complex to set up, it is more expensive to establish than a will. More often than not, putting together a trust would also require legal assistance, which, naturally, contributes to the higher cost in starting and managing it.
Don’t be misled, though! Sure, establishing a trust is more costly, but there are also expenses to consider in wills–particularly with respect to taxes and probate. In fact, if you take into account these two (which your loved ones cannot avoid to face in wills!), the final price to pay might just be higher than what will have to be shouldered in making a trust.
That said, let’s now proceed to the topic of probate, or the legal process by which the court authenticates the will (among its other to-do’s), before properties of the deceased are passed on to loved ones.
As I have pointed out above and in earlier blog posts, a will needs to undergo probate. A carefully drafted trust agreement, on the other hand, does not. Now this is a very important point to consider because not only do probate proceedings cost lots, but they also may take a long time (some would even take years!) and are public in nature (what you own, how much your estate is, who you owed–yup, all public!).
This being so, if you do decide to make a will, know that this is what your loved ones will have to go through before actually receiving what you reserved for them.
If you’ve gone this far, I’m pretty sure you are more or less convinced that a trust is the better option than a will–understandable, but not entirely accurate.
Remember, the answer would always depend on your needs and circumstances. What do you want achieved in executing a will, trust, or both a will and a trust? How would your familial and marital situation interact with your estate planning goals?
There are loads of things to consider, definitely. The bottom line? Deciding between wills or trusts (or both!) will all depend on your goal, your assets, your marital and family status, and the legal rules that come into play.
Most especially with the last bit, I’m here to help!
Looking forward to delving deeper into wills and trusts with you and to eventually guide you as you execute your own!