Trusts and Wills are often talked about as if they were two sides of the same coin. In reality, these tools can be used to achieve very different estate planning goals. Yes, they both direct the distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries when you die…but this is where the similarities end, because a trust can do everything that the will does (and more) without the necessary trip to the courthouse that a will requires your family to make. If you are in the beginning stages of estate planning, understanding the differences between a will and a trust is an important first step.

Trusts vs. Wills: A Basic Overview

A Revocable Living Trust is a way to give your family the authority to manage your property if you become disabled and to distribute your property when you die – and until you die or become are disabled, you maintain complete access to and control of your assets.  When you establish a trust, you’ll draft a trust agreement that sets the terms by which your trustee must abide. These terms may include how your assets should be managed, to whom they should benefit and be distributed, and how they should ultimately be disposed and distributed.

A trust takes effect as soon as assets are transferred into it. Trusts serve numerous purposes: they help streamline the transfer of your assets to your beneficiaries, keep your estate out of probate, regulate how and when your beneficiaries may receive their inheritances, protect the privacy of your affairs, and can even protect your property from your own confusion.

Wills, on the other hand, are less versatile.

A Will only gives a set of instructions of how you wish your assets to be distributed after you die. When you write your will, you’ll name an executor who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. Your agent under the Will, the Executor cannot act until the will is submitted for probate and a judge gives the executor authority.

Contrast this with your agent under a trust, your Trustee, who can act immediately because you give the trustee authority in the trust document that is not subject to court review

Unlike a Trust, a Will is a public document. In order for the terms of your Will to be carried out, it must be filed with the probate court, and the proceedings from this process will exist in the public record.

Unlike a Trust, a Will does not protect your family’s privacy. It does not save your loved ones from the challenge of navigating the probate process. Nevertheless, in limited cases, a Will can be the correct choice.  Most families, however, benefit from having both a Will and a Trust as part of their comprehensive estate plan.

Contact the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia

To find out which estate planning tools are best suited to your needs and goals, it’s important to consult with an estate planning attorney. Do not hesitate to reach out to attorney Jim Miskell of the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia, either by calling (770) 822-2723 or using the contact form on our website.

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