At least once a week I’m asked the difference between a trust and a will. The main difference between a will and a trust is that (in order to be effective) a will must go through probate. A will tells the court what you want to happen to your assets and minor children after you pass, while a trust controls what happens to your death both before and after death. Now, I’m not going to dwell on probate, but if that’s a goal, a trust is going to be the preferable option. A trust also is easier to use than a power of attorney when a person becomes incapacitated.
However, in order for a trust to be effective, assets must be titled in the name of the trust. So your car, bank account, home, etc, must belong to the trust. After the assets are owned by the trust, you may only do with your assets what the trust says you may do. In most situations, a trust is written broadly enough that you may continue treating your assets the way you normally would. However, you can place limitations on how assets are used and when they may be distributed. This is not possible in the same way in a will.
Finally, a trust allows one person to control. With a will, one person controls, but if you use non-probate transfers in conjunction with a will, all owners of non-liquid assets must sign off on the sale of an item. For example, if you TOD your car to your three children, all three children must sign off on the sale of the car. Whereas if the car is owned by the trust, only the trustee has to sign on the sale of the car. This is normally a much larger concern with houses where beneficiaries may not agree or where arranging everyone to sign off at the same time in the same place may be difficult.
So, the next question that follows this discussion is whether a trust or a will is right for you. Well, the only way I can truly answer that question is to sit down and do a free consultation with someone. However, these questions are good indicators:
Do you have minor children?
Are your beneficiaries likely to argue with each other?
Are your beneficiaries in town?
Do any of the beneficiaries have financial, medical, or relationship problems?
Is it likely they will contest your wishes?
Are your assets easily dividable?
Do you own a business?
If you answered any of these questions (or especially more than one) “yes”, then a trust might be the best option for you. If you or someone you know are wondering if a will or trust is better for you and your family, I strongly recommend consulting an attorney. The Burkhardt Law Firm offers free no obligation consultations and would love to help you answer these questions.