Wills vs. Trusts: What is the Difference?

Estate planning is usually the most overlooked aspect of a person’s financial plan. This makes sense, as people do not want to contemplate the financial—or any other, for that matter—implications of their eventual passing. Having said that, as unappealing as it may be, a good financial plan needs to consider how our financial assets will affect the loved ones we leave behind.

A significant portion of your estate plan will likely utilize two legal entities: wills and trusts. Wills and trusts are terms sometimes used, albeit incorrectly, interchangeably to describe the legal document by which a deceased person transfers their remaining financial assets posthumously. To put more simply: to whom do you want your assets to be given after you’re gone? Broadly speaking, both wills and trusts accomplish these goals, but there are notable differences. The full legal complexity of wills and trusts is too large to address here but understanding the general principles can be useful.

First, a will goes into effect only after you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as you create it. A will is a document that directs who will receive your assets after your death and appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. By contrast, a trust can be used to begin distributing assets before and after death. An appointed trustee possesses legal title to your assets after your death. The creator, or grantor, of the trust may appoint the trustee.

Second, a will covers any assets that are only in your name at the time of death. It does not cover assets held jointly. A trust, on the other hand, covers assets that have been transferred to the trust, including jointly held assets.

Third, a will passes through probate, which means a court oversees the administration of your will and becomes part of the public record. A trust passes outside probate, is private, and generally saves time and money.

Overall, most people should establish a will and a trust. Wills generally serve specific purposes, such as naming a guardian for children or specifying funeral arrangements. A trust can be used to consolidate assets, naming beneficiaries, and even provide tax advantages.

Given the complexity of options and the legal ramifications for you and your estate, we always recommend a client work with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare their estate plan. We, as financial professionals, can help you find an attorney and can certainly guide you through the process. While no one likes to contemplate their death, planning now will protect you and your loved ones in the future.

Multnomah Group is a registered investment adviser, registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Any information contained herein or on Multnomah Group’s website is provided for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and, unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Multnomah Group does not provide legal or tax advice.

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