Understanding the Differences Between a Will and a Trust

In matters of estate planning, two crucial tools often come to the forefront: the will and the trust. While both serve the purpose of ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your passing, they differ significantly as legal instruments and in their mechanisms, benefits, and limitations. To make informed decisions about your estate planning, it’s essential to understand the key differences between these two instruments.  Since every situation is unique, your estate planning attorney can advise you which legal instrument is the best for your situation, but we feel it’s important to be educated on the differences between a will and a trust.  Let’s explore.


Last Will and Testament (Will):

A last will and testament, commonly known as a will, is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. It designates beneficiaries who will inherit specific properties or possessions, and it may also include provisions for guardianship of minor children and the appointment of an executor to manage the distribution process.


A trust is a legal entity that holds and manages your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries. It involves the transfer of ownership of assets to the trust, which is then managed by a trustee according to the terms you establish. Trusts come in various forms, such as revocable living trusts and irrevocable trusts, and can be set up during your lifetime (living trusts) or established upon your passing (testamentary trusts).



Probate Process:

One of the most significant distinctions between wills and trusts is their impact on the probate process. A will typically requires probate, which is the legal process of validating the will, identifying assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries. Probate can be time-consuming, costly, and subject to public scrutiny.

On the other hand, assets held in a trust generally avoid probate. The trust’s structure allows for the seamless transfer of assets to beneficiaries without the need for court intervention. This can result in quicker distribution and greater privacy for your estate matters.


Wills are public documents once they go through the probate process. This means that anyone can access the information contained within a will, including details about your assets, debts, and beneficiaries. This lack of privacy can potentially expose your family’s financial matters to unnecessary scrutiny

Trusts, especially revocable living trusts, offer greater privacy. Since trusts typically avoid probate, their terms and contents remain confidential. This can be a crucial advantage for individuals who value their privacy and wish to keep their financial affairs discreet.

Flexibility and Control:

Wills provide a clear means of specifying your wishes for asset distribution and other matters, but they may not offer as much flexibility as trusts. Trusts allow for more intricate instructions and conditions. For instance, you can set up provisions to distribute assets over time, specify conditions for inheritance (such as reaching a certain age or achieving specific milestones), and even provide for special needs beneficiaries.

Management During Incapacity:

Wills only take effect after your passing, so they do not address the management of your assets if you become incapacitated. In contrast, certain trusts, like revocable living trusts, can be structured to provide a seamless transition of asset management in the event of your incapacity. This ensures that your financial affairs are taken care of without the need for court-appointed guardianship.


Wills are generally less expensive to create than trusts. However, the costs associated with probate, including court fees and legal expenses, can offset the initial savings of creating a will.  While creating a trust may involve more planning and costs, it can potentially save your beneficiaries a tremendous amount of money and time by avoiding probate-related expenses.

Choosing the Right Option:

The decision to use a will, a trust, or a combination of both depends on your individual circumstances, goals, and preferences. Factors such as the complexity of your assets, the desire for privacy, the potential for incapacitation, and the willingness to invest in upfront costs should all be considered.  Ultimately, consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is crucial to making an informed decision that aligns with your wishes. Your estate planning attorney can guide you through the intricacies of wills and trusts, helping you design an estate plan that ensures your legacy is managed as you envision while minimizing the potential challenges for your loved ones.

free guide to wills & trustsAt Frame & Frame Attorneys at Law, we believe that an educated client will make more informed decisions.  Download your Free Guide to Wills, Trusts & Probate!

In the realm of estate planning, both wills and trusts play vital roles in ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Understanding the differences between these two instruments is essential for creating an effective estate plan that meets your needs. Whether you opt for the simplicity of a will or the flexibility of a trust, careful planning and professional guidance are crucial to ensuring your legacy is preserved and passed on with minimal complications.  Do you have questions or are you ready to get started?  Schedule a discovery call today!