Both a will and a living revocable trust are valuable estate tools that transfer wealth to heirs—and both can work together to establish a complete estate plan—but what’s the difference between each, and which do you really need? We’ll go over this in the article below.

What is a Will?

A will is a written document that expresses what should happen to your property and assets after you die. As such, it becomes active upon your death. You can also appoint guardians for your children, name an executor, forgive debts, and specify how to pay your taxes.

What is a Living Revocable Trust?

Unlike a will, which becomes active after your death, a living trust kicks in immediately, and you are fully in charge of your trust while you are living. After your death, the person you appoint as the successor trustee will handle your affairs as you’ve outlined them in the document. There are also irrevocable trusts, which are generally created for tax purposes. Unlike revocable trusts, which can be changed at any time by the grantor, an irrevocable trust cannot be amended after it is established.

The Main Difference Between a Will and a Living Revocable Trust

After your death, the appointed executor of your will must work with the probate court to sort the terms of your will. This is a highly-structured process that can be drawn-out and expensive. A living trust, however, appoints a trustee to manage and distribute trust property after your death. Because the trust owns the assets and the trust hasn’t died, there is no need for probate. A living trust is a private contract between you as the grantor and the trust entity. Generally, the grantor serves as the trustee of his own revocable living trust, thus managing it during his lifetime. A successor trustee can be appointed to step in and oversee handling of the trust when the grantor dies, settling it and allocating its property to the beneficiaries named in the trust documents.

Which is Better, a Will or a Trust?

A trust simplifies the procedure of transferring an estate after your death while preventing a lengthy and possibly costly course of probate. However, if you have minor children, creating a will that names a guardian is crucial in protecting both the minors and any inheritance. The decision between a will and a trust is a personal choice, though some experts advise to have both. While a trust is typically expensive and legally complex, a will is generally less expensive and easier to establish.

Which Do You Need?

Almost everyone should have a will, but not everyone will need a living trust. If you have minor children as well as property and assets for which you would feel more settled knowing they were in a trust, then having both a will and a living revocable trust may make sense. Keep in mind that they are two separate legal documents, so one does not override the other unless issues arise, in which case a living trust will likely trump a will because a trust is its own entity.

No matter which you choose, it’s important to get your affairs in order earlier rather later. If you have minor children, establishing a will that grants guardianship should be a priority. Beyond that, making an estate plan now can save money and time later, especially for the loved ones you would be leaving behind.

Jean Miller - Accounting Manager