Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Understanding the Difference Between a Will and a Living Trust

When planning for the future of your children as you get older, there are a few options on how to pass on your assets such as property, life insurance, stocks, etc. The two major ways of stating and distributing your assets after your passing is with a living trust or will. When you hear the words trust fund or wills, it refers to estate planning. Although there are different trusts out there, the main one I will focus on is a living trust.


A will is a document that is created to help distribute assets and properties to a beneficiary after one passes away. With a will, it will be submitted through a probate process, which is a court process. In this process, the courts will validate the will and ensure that all the instructions are followed properly while also repaying any creditors. The downfall to a will is that it becomes public so anyone can see the distribution of your assets to your selected beneficiaries. On top of not having privacy, it could take several months to even years for the court to sort everything out!

Living Trust

A living trust is a legal document that states three parties: Grantor/Trustor, Trustee, and Beneficiaries. The grantor/trustor is the individual or couple who establishes/creates the trust. The trustee is the person nominated to be in control of the trusts assets. In many cases, the trustee is the same as the grantor/trustor. Beneficiaries are those at the receiving end who will benefit from the trust. A trust is beneficial to most people who have property worth $100,000+ and/or those who have large amounts of assets. In certain states, properties at $100,000+ can be subject to legal fees in the probate process. With a living trust, it bypasses the whole probate process and all assets can be immediately accessed by the beneficiaries. As opposed to a will, a living trust is private so it does not go through a probate process, therefore it is NOT a public record. Things that can be listed in a living trust include: stocks, bonds, real estate, life insurance, personal property, etc.

A trust is beneficial for estate planning for those who have large amounts of assets. By establishing a specific living trust known as an A-B Trust, an individual can reduce the amount of taxes paid significantly. For example, in 2012, the current estate tax is $5.12M with a cap at 35% over the $5.12M. In an A-B Trust with a couple passing their assets to their one kid, they would designate half the fund to the surviving spouse and the other half to the kid. The surviving spouse and the kid will then each receive a tax break of $5.12M giving a sheltered total of $10.24M from estate taxes. When the surviving spouse passes, then his/her half is giving to the kid who is then subject to another $5.12M tax break. Unlike a trust, a will however will be only have a tax break of $5.12M.


When comparing the differences of having a last will versus a living trust, it shows that the trust comes out on top. A trust will help to give privacy, immediate access to assets from beneficiaries, AND tax breaks. For those who are near the age of deciding what to pass on to their children or know someone in that situation, help them understand the difference of the two and sway them toward a living trust if feasible!

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