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Wills vs. Trusts: A Quick & Simple Reference Guide



Confused about the differences between wills and trusts? If so, you are not alone. While it is always wise to contact attorneys like us, whose primary practice area is estate planning, it is also important to understand the basics. Here is a quick and simple reference guide:

What Revocable Living Trusts Can Do – That Wills Cannot

  • Avoid a conservatorship and guardianship. A revocable living trust allows you to authorize your spouse, partner, child, or other trusted person to manage your assets should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. Wills only become effective when you die, so they are useless in avoiding conservatorship and guardianship proceedings during your life.

  • Bypass probate. Property in a revocable living trust does not pass through probate. Property that passes using a will guarantees probate. The probate process, designed to wrap up a person’s affairs after satisfying outstanding debts, is public and can be costly and time consuming – sometimes taking years to resolve.

  • Maintain privacy after death. Wills are public documents; trusts are not. Anyone, including nosey neighbors, predators, and unscrupulous “charities” can discover the details of your estate if you have a will. Trusts allow you to maintain your family’s privacy after death.

  • Protect you from court challenges. Although court challenges to wills and trusts occur, attacking a trust is generally much harder than attacking a will because trust provisions are not made public.

What Wills Can Do – That Revocable Living Trusts Cannot

  • Name guardians for children. Only a will – not a living trust or any other type of document – can be used to name guardians to care for minor children.

  • Specify an executor or personal representative. Wills allow you to name an executor or personal representative – someone who will take responsibility to wrap up your estate after you die. This typically involves working with the probate court, protecting assets, paying your debts, and distributing what remains to bene