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Choosing Between a Will and a Living Trust: Pros and Cons

By Chris Tymchuck
Founding Attorney

Are you considering how to best secure your future and ensure your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone? You might be wondering whether a will or a living trust is the right choice for your estate planning needs. Each option has its unique advantages and drawbacks, and understanding these can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your personal circumstances and goals.

Understanding Wills

A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of any minor children after your passing. It becomes effective only upon your death. One major advantage of a will is its simplicity and relatively low cost to create compared to other estate planning tools. It allows you to specify who receives what, making it a straightforward way to leave instructions behind. However, a significant downside is that a will must go through probate, a legal process that can be time-consuming and public, potentially leading to delays in asset distribution. Additionally, while wills can provide clear directions, they do not offer control over your assets or their distribution beyond your death, nor do they help in managing your affairs should you become incapacitated.

Understanding Living Trusts

A living trust is a legal arrangement where you transfer the ownership of your assets into the trust to be managed by a trustee for the benefit of your chosen beneficiaries. One of its primary advantages is the avoidance of probate, which can expedite the asset distribution process and maintain privacy since the trust does not become a public record. Living trusts also provide the flexibility to manage your assets during your lifetime, including if you become incapacitated, with a successor trustee stepping in to manage the trust’s affairs seamlessly. However, creating a living trust is more complex and costly than drafting a will, and it requires ongoing management to ensure all assets remain properly titled in the trust. Despite these challenges, for many, the benefits of a living trust, particularly in terms of privacy and avoiding probate, make it a worthwhile option for estate planning.

Comparing Wills and Living Trusts

When comparing wills and living trusts, the main considerations typically revolve around the probate process, privacy, cost, and ease of management. Wills are straightforward and less expensive to create but must go through probate, which lead to delays and increased costs. Further, the probate process is public, so anyone can view your will or planned distribution of assets. In contrast, living trusts avoid probate, providing faster asset transfer to beneficiaries and keeping the estate private. However, the initial cost of a trust is more than a will and may require more effort to set up and maintain. Another key difference is in incapacity planning: a living trust allows you to appoint someone to manage your affairs without court intervention if you’re unable to do so yourself, whereas a will does not. 

Making the Right Choice for You

Deciding between a will and a living trust depends on your circumstances, the complexity of your estate, and your priorities for privacy and control. If you value simplicity and have a straightforward estate, a will may suffice. However, if you wish to avoid probate, maintain privacy, and ensure smooth management of your affairs in case of incapacity, a living trust could be the better option. Consider your long-term goals, and the needs of your beneficiaries, and consult with an estate planning attorney to make an informed choice that best protects your legacy and your loved ones.

Unique Estate Law Can Help with Your Estate Planning Needs

At Unique Estate Law, we understand the importance of personalized estate planning. Our experienced team is dedicated to guiding you, ensuring your estate plan perfectly aligns with your unique needs and goals. Contact us today to secure your future and the well-being of your loved ones with confidence.

About the Author
As a Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate attorney I help build and protect families through the adoption, estate planning, and probate processes. I also have experience working with families on issues related to their small businesses. I know how difficult it is to find time to plan for the future and I am here to help walk you through it.