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Estate planning basics: will vs. trust

If you are interested in determining where your assets go once you die, then estate planning is a smart choice. It is only natural to want to have a say in what happens to the money and property you have made and saved. There are several different estate planning techniques, including establishing a will or trust. Your estate planning strategy depends on your needs and circumstances.

The difference

A living trust gives you the ability to manage your property throughout your lifetime and after death. When you establish a trust, you can choose to be your own trustee and determine a successor upon incapacity or death. A will, on the other hand, is only concerned with what happens to your property after death.

The benefits

With a properly written and funded trust, you can experience the following benefits:

  • Privacy: No public record or probate on your assets.
  • Control: Planning for incapacity and death.
  • Versatility: It works for estates of any size.

A will, on the other hand, is flexible because it is subject to changes and revocation at any time you are alive. It also gives you the option to name a guardian for any minor children.

Questions to ask

While there are plenty of advantages of having a trust, a will is beneficial and adequate to many people. Asking the following questions will help you determine which estate planning method is best for you:

  • Do you have children? Only a trust enables you to determine when minor children will be able to access assets.
  • Do you have any children with special needs? In certain cases, you might want to limit the amount of access or control your heirs have regarding their inheritance. A trust gives you more control over this.
  • Will you constantly be involved in your estate plan? A trust requires you to transfer assets into it. If you will not be actively managing your estate, a will may be a more suitable option.

A trust and will achieve comparable objectives, but a trust gives more control. Trusts tend to be more expensive because are actively managed. The benefits of a trust come with an extra cost that may not be ideal for certain people.

It is important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to estate planning. Everyone has unique needs, assets and financial situations. If you have further questions about estate planning and which option is best for you, consider consulting an elder law attorney.

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