Living Trust vs. Will: Which One Fits Your Needs?

Living Trust vs. Will ComparisonLiving Trust vs. Will Comparison

Key Takeaways

  • Probate Avoidance: Living Trusts avoid probate, offering a quicker, private asset transfer.
  • Privacy: Living Trusts provide privacy for your estate plans, unlike Wills, which become public.
  • Flexibility: Both Living Trusts and Wills offer revocability and flexibility, but Trusts add the additional benefit of managing financial assets during incapacity.
  • Guardianship: Wills are essential for nominating guardians for minor children, an area Living Trusts do not cover.
  • Estate Planning Integration: Living Trusts can be part of a broader estate plan bundle, complementing Wills, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.

What is a Living Trust?

A Living Trust, also known as a revocable living trust, is a legal document created during an individual's lifetime, where a trustee is appointed to manage the trust's assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. Here's a breakdown of its key features and key benefits:

  1. Control and Flexibility: The person who creates the trust (the grantor) can also serve as the trustee, maintaining control over the assets placed within the trust. Because it is revocable, the grantor can modify or dissolve the trust anytime during their lifetime, as long as they are mentally competent.
  2. Avoidance of Probate: A key advantage of a Living Trust is its ability to avoid the probate process upon the grantor's death. Probate can be time-consuming, expensive, and public. Assets held in a living trust can be transferred to the designated beneficiaries without court intervention, saving time and maintaining privacy.
  3. Privacy: Unlike a will, which is a public record once it goes through probate, a living trust remains private. This means the details of the assets and the identities of the beneficiaries are not made public.
  4. Continuous Management: If the grantor becomes incapacitated, the successor trustee (appointed by the grantor) can manage the trust's assets. This ensures that the grantor's affairs are handled according to their wishes without needing a court-appointed guardian or conservator.
  5. Efficiency and Convenience: By avoiding probate, the transfer of assets to beneficiaries can often occur more quickly than with a traditional will. This efficiency can be particularly beneficial in reducing stress on family members during a difficult time.
  6. Estate Planning Integration: A Living Trust is often part of a broader estate plan that may include a will, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives. While the trust deals with managing and distributing assets, a will can cover assets not included in the trust and nominate guardians for dependent children.
A Living Trust offers a flexible and efficient way to manage and distribute your assets, both during your lifetime and after your death, while providing privacy and potentially saving time and money by avoiding probate.

What is a Will?

A Will, formally known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines how a person's assets and estate will be distributed upon their death. It is a foundational estate planning document, ensuring that an individual's final wishes are respected and executed. Here are the key aspects and benefits of having a Will:

  1. Asset Distribution: A Will specifies who will inherit the deceased's assets, property, and any other personal belongings. This can include family members, friends, charities, or organizations. Without a Will, the distribution of assets is determined by state laws, which might not align with the deceased's wishes.
  2. Appointment of an Executor: The Will allows the person creating it (the testator) to appoint an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the wishes stated in the Will and managing the estate's affairs. This includes paying off debts, handling funeral expenses, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries.
  3. Guardianship of Minor Children: A crucial benefit of a Will is the ability to nominate guardians for minor children. This ensures that, in the event of the parent's untimely death, the children are cared for by trusted individuals chosen by the parents rather than being appointed by a court.
  4. Probate Process: While a Will simplifies the distribution of an estate, it must go through probate—a legal process where a court reviews and validates the Will and confirms beneficiary designations, which can be time-consuming and public. Despite this, having a Will speeds up the probate process compared to dying intestate (without a Will).
  5. Flexibility and Revocability: A Will can be changed or revoked at any time during the testator's life, provided they are of sound mind. This allows for adjustments as circumstances change, such as the birth of children, marriage, divorce, or changes in financial status.
  6. Clarity and Conflict Reduction: By clearly stating the testator's wishes, a Will can reduce potential conflicts among family members or other beneficiaries. It provides a clear directive on how the testator wants their affairs handled, which can help prevent disputes and ensure a smoother transition of assets.
A Will serves as a critical legal tool for directing the distribution of your estate according to your wishes, appointing guardians for minor children, and nominating an executor to manage your estate's affairs.

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Comparison of Living Trust vs. Will

Comparing a Living Trust and a Will is essential for effective estate planning, as each offers unique advantages and serves different needs. Here's a detailed comparison to help you understand which might be right for your situation:

Probate Avoidance

  • Living Trust: One of the main benefits of a living trust is its ability to avoid probate's costly process. Estate assets held in the trust are transferred directly to beneficiaries without the need for court involvement, saving time and maintaining privacy.
  • Will: Assets distributed via a will must go through probate, a public and often lengthy legal process. Depending on the estate's complexity and state laws, this can be time-consuming and costly.


  • Living Trust: Remains private, as it does not go through probate. The trust details, including assets and beneficiaries, are not made public.
  • Will: Becomes a public document once it enters the probate process, making the estate details available to anyone who seeks them.

Control During Incapacity

  • Living Trust: Allows for continuous management of the assets if the grantor becomes incapacitated. The successor trustee can step in to manage the trust's affairs without intervention.
  • Will: Does not provide a mechanism for managing the individual's assets if they become incapacitated. Separate legal documents, like powers of attorney, are necessary.

Cost and Complexity

  • Living Trust: Generally more complex and costly to set up than a will because it involves transferring assets into the trust during the grantor's lifetime. However, it can save money in the long term by avoiding probate costs.
  • Will: Typically less expensive and simpler to create initially but can lead to higher costs down the line due to probate and potential legal challenges.

Flexibility and Revocability

  • Living Trust: A revocable living trust allows the grantor to make changes or dissolve the trust entirely during their lifetime, offering significant flexibility.
  • Will: Can also be changed or revoked at any time before death, provided the individual is of sound mind.

Coverage of Assets

  • Living Trust: Only covers assets that have been formally transferred into the trust. Any assets not in the trust at the time of the grantor's death would not be covered by the trust's provisions.
  • Will: Can cover all assets owned by the individual at the time of death, regardless of whether they have been specifically listed in the will, although some assets like life insurance or retirement accounts might pass outside of the will if there are designated beneficiaries.

Guardianship of Minor Children

  • Living Trust: Does not directly address the guardianship of minor children. This must be specified in a separate legal document, often a will.
  • Will: Allows the testator to nominate guardians for minor children, a critical feature for parents.

Consulting with an estate attorney can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation and goals.

How to Choose the Right Option for You

The choice between a living trust and a will depends on individual circumstances, including the size and complexity of the estate, privacy concerns, the desire to avoid probate, and considerations around incapacity. While many types of trusts exist, estate planning often involves using both a living trust and a will to cover all aspects comprehensively. Here are some key considerations to help you make the right decision for your estate planning needs:

Assess Your Estate's Complexity and Size

  • Living Trust: If you have a complicated estate, a living trust might be the better option. It allows for smoother, private transfer of assets and can manage property in multiple states without requiring numerous probate processes.
  • Will: For simpler estates or when your primary concern is appointing guardians for minor children, a will could suffice.

Consider Privacy Preferences

  • Living Trust: Choose a living trust if you prefer to keep the details of your estate and beneficiaries private, as it does not become a public document.
  • Will: If privacy is not a major concern, and you don't mind the probate process, a will is a viable option.

Evaluate the Need for Probate Avoidance

  • Living Trust: If avoiding the time and expense associated with probate is important to you, particularly if you own property in more than one state, a living trust is advantageous.
  • Will: If you have minimal assets or the assets are located in a state with simplified probate procedures for small estates, the probate process might not be as burdensome.

Plan for Potential Incapacity

  • Living Trust: If you're concerned about who will manage your affairs if you become incapacitated, a living trust allows your successor trustee to step in seamlessly.
  • Will: Wills do not cover incapacity. For comprehensive planning, you would need additional documents, like a durable power of attorney and a healthcare directive.

Understand the Costs

  • Living Trust: Initially, it has more up front costs and is more complex to set up than a will because it involves transferring property into the trust. However, avoiding probate can save money and hassle for your heirs.
  • Will: Less expensive upfront but may lead to higher costs later, especially if your estate undergoes a lengthy probate process.

Decide on Guardianship for Minor Children

  • Living Trust: Does not allow you to appoint guardians for your children. You would need a will or another document to outline these wishes.
  • Will: Essential for appointing guardians for minor children, a critical consideration for parents.

Look at Your Family Dynamics

  • Both: Consider how well your family members communicate and get along. If there's potential for conflict, a living trust might minimize disputes over asset distribution. A will, while simpler, could be more prone to challenges.

Long-Term Flexibility

  • Living Trust: Offers flexibility as you can alter it during your lifetime to accommodate changes in your situation.
  • Will: Also flexible, allowing updates as needed, but remember, it only takes effect after death.

Consult with an Estate Planning Professional

Before deciding, it's wise to consult with experts, such as an estate planning attorney or a certified financial planner specializing in estate planning. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation, assets, and goals. By considering your unique circumstances and consulting with a professional, you can ensure that you choose the right estate planning tool(s) to help protect your assets and your loved ones.

Implementing Your Choice

Implementing your choice between a Living Trust and a Will, or utilizing both as part of your estate planning options, requires careful planning and several key steps. Here’s how you can proceed with each option:

Implementing a Living Trust

  1. Draft the Trust Document: Work with an estate planning attorney to draft a trust document that outlines your wishes, including how your assets should be managed and distributed upon your death or incapacity. You will need to choose between a revocable trust or an irrevocable trust.
  2. Select a Trustee: Choose a reliable and trustworthy individual or institution to serve as your trustee. This person or entity will manage the trust's assets according to the terms you've set forth.
  3. Transfer Assets into the Trust: For the trust to be effective, you must formally transfer ownership of your assets (such as real estate, bank accounts, and investments) into the trust. This may require changing titles and deeds to reflect the trust as the new owner.
  4. Notify Beneficiaries: Inform your beneficiaries about the trust and their role in it, ensuring they understand how and when they will receive their inheritance.
  5. Maintain the Trust: Keep the trust document updated in response to significant life changes or adjustments in your wishes. Periodically review the trust's assets to ensure all relevant assets are included within the trust.

Implementing a Will

  1. Draft the Will: With the assistance of an estate planning attorney, create a will that details how you want your assets distributed, who will serve as the executor of your estate, and, if applicable, who will be the guardian(s) for your minor children.
  2. Sign in Front of Witnesses: For a will to be valid, it must be signed in front of witnesses. The requirements for witnesses vary by state, so be sure to comply with your state's laws.
  3. Store the Will Safely: Keep the original copy of your will in a safe, accessible place. Make sure your executor knows where it is stored.
  4. Review and Update as Needed: Like a living trust, your will should be reviewed periodically and updated to reflect changes in your life circumstances, assets, or wishes.

Using Both a Living Trust & Will

Many people find that a combination of a Living Trust and a Will best serves their needs. For example, you might use a living trust for the bulk of your assets to avoid probate and maintain privacy while also having a "pour-over" will that covers any assets not placed in the trust. The will can also appoint guardians for minor children, a function not served by a trust.

Additional Steps for Comprehensive Estate Planning

  • Advance Directives: Consider preparing advance directives, such as a durable power of attorney and a healthcare proxy, to ensure your finances and healthcare wishes are honored if you become incapacitated.
  • Life Insurance Policies: Evaluate your life insurance needs to provide additional financial support for your beneficiaries or to cover potential estate taxes or debts.
  • Communicate with Your Family: Openly discussing your estate plan with your family can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts after your death.

Implementing your estate planning choice involves thoughtful consideration of assets, family dynamics, and future wishes, not just drafting documents. Working with a professional can ensure that your estate plan is comprehensive, legally sound, and effectively carries out your wishes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a living trust avoid probate?

A living trust avoids probate because you transfer ownership of your assets from yourself individually to the trust during your lifetime. Since the trust, a separate legal entity becomes the owner of these assets, they are not part of your individual estate upon death. This means your successor trustee can distribute them according to your instructions in the trust document without court involvement.

Can a will help protect my assets from taxes?

A will alone doesn't directly help protect your assets from taxes. While a will outlines how your assets should be distributed after your death, it doesn't include the sophisticated tax planning strategies necessary to minimize estate or inheritance taxes. Specialized trusts and professional guidance from an estate planning attorney and tax advisor are often required for significant asset protection in complex estates.

Can a living trust replace a will?

A living trust can handle a significant portion of your estate planning, allowing assets to bypass probate and ensuring their distribution according to your wishes. However, it doesn't entirely replace a will, as you'll still need a will to name guardians for minor children and address any assets not transferred into the trust. Many people use a living trust and a "pour-over" will for the most comprehensive plan.

What happens if I die without a will or trust?

If you die without a will or trust, your assets will be distributed according to your state's intestacy laws, meaning you lose control over who inherits your belongings. This complex process takes place in probate court, which can be expensive and time-consuming, and the court will also appoint a guardian for any minor children you have.

What is the difference between a living trust vs. living will?

A living trust, is a legal document that holds your assets and dictates how they should be distributed after your death, helping your heirs avoid probate. 

A living will, also known as an advance healthcare directive, outlines your preferences for medical decisions, treatments, and end-of-life care in case you become unable to make those decisions yourself.


The choice between a living trust and a will depends on individual circumstances, including the size and complexity of the estate, privacy concerns, the desire to avoid probate, and considerations around incapacity. Often, estate planning involves using both a living trust and a will to cover all aspects comprehensively. Consulting with an estate planning lawyer can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation, estate planning goals, and end-of-life wishes.

Creating a will is a decisive step towards a helping secure a future for your loved ones. Don't leave their well-being to chance—take control by documenting your wishes. Start my free will now!3


  1. What is a revocable living trust? - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  2. Living Trust vs Will - Nolo.
  3. Free Will from Fabric by Gerber Life, a member of the Western & Southern Financial Group Family of Companies.

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