What is the difference between a will and a trust?

3 answers | Last updated: Jul 31, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

What is the difference between a will and a trust?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Both documents transfer property when a person dies.

The difference is a will is the traditional document that's been used for many centuries to do it. In it, you identify your property and name beneficiaries you want to receive it. You can also named a person, called an executor, to round up and manage your property at death and distribute it according to the will terms.

A possible drawback: Almost all wills have to go through a court approval process called probate, which adds time and expense to the process. For some, however, especially those with who have feuding survivors, the fact that a court steps in to supervise skirmishes and creditor disputes can be a boon.

A living trust is another method of transferring ownership of all -- or at least most -- of your property to beneficiaries you name. During your lifetime, you are the trustee of your own property in the trust. The person designated as successor trustee is responsible for distributing the trust contents at death.

A possible disadvantage for some people is that living trusts can be slightly more difficult to establish and mange than wills. And for some, it's an advantage that the terms of the trust can remain private, unlike wills, which generally become public documents at death.

For more on this, see the article titled Estate Planning Basics on this site.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

How do you transfer real property via a Trust since it must be recorded in the land records? Must you also record the Trust in order to make a paper trail for those searching the title in the future?

Geo2015 answered...

You bet a living trust can be a serious disadvantage for some people… more difficult to establish and mange than a regular estate governed by a simple will. Many people seem to think that a trust is The Answer to all inheritance issues, for tax and/or estate planning issues, etc. Not so.

In fact, from what have seen, it can frequently be a real disadvantage… And can paint us into a financial corner for years – sometimes for decades… involving a trustee, often an uncooperative trustee that is extremely difficult to replace, and there are costs associated with a trustee – as well as with the trust attorney – both financially and emotionally if we’re unlucky and get a trustee that doesn’t have our better interests at heart. It can be tough. At least with an estate, with a simple will, it’s in and out; even with probate to go through – 12, 15, 18 months, and it’s done. Finito. Not so with many trusts… depending on the distribution schedule. Something for us to think about, when looking forward as to what our beneficiaries will have to deal with.

Most middle class people believe that trusts are mainly for affluent families… that a simple will is the best avenue for them to go down when it comes to leaving their heirs an inheritance. And I don‘t disagree. People should perhaps consider this when planning ahead for their loved ones… When we have a modest middle class estate, providing heirs with modest assets – a complex, pricey trust with expensive attorneys and trustee, is overkill. Better used for upscale beneficiaries coming into affluent assets. Know what I mean?

Also – a lot of middle class heirs find themselves sorely lacking in cash flow when they reach the point of getting an inheritance. And a trust frequently contains a Spendthrift Clause or Spendthrift Provision… which generally prohibits giving themselves a trust fund cash advance or trust fund loan assignment. Also – no possibility for probate loans, inheritance loans or estate loans based on assets in probate… Negatory for a probate advance or inheritance advance assignment.

So when we’re looking ahead for our heirs, in terms of leaving them an inheritance – I figure why not leave them something that will also allow them to get a loan on inheritance if they are in trouble financially, which is common these days with middle class and working class folks.

Why not make it possible for our loved ones to borrow money against their inheritance – smoothly, easily, and quickly – from East Coast inheritance advance or probate loan companies, or West Coast inheritance loan companies. They’ll need to become overnight “expert” researchers on estate loans… probate advance or inheritance advance assignments, inheritance loans, inheritance cash advance or probate cash advance and inheritance advance assignments… from probate loans companies such as good old www.heiradvance.com, www.inheritancenow.com or www.inheritanceadvance.com, some of the few but solid inheritance advance companies or inheritance loans companies that offer the same sort of inheritance cash advance or probate loan, inheritance advance services. Once they get that probate cash windfall in the bank, you can see many of their problems just melt away. A probate estate has many more hidden benefits than most people realize… that go beyond simply waiting for an inheritance to distribute.

I guess we can call that surprise probate estate benefits. That can help with some real probate cash, inheritance cash advance, benefits. It certainly can’t hurt, what with all the problems middle class Americans must face these days.