Trusts vs. Wills: Understanding the Key Differences in Estate Planning

May 23, 2023

Introduction: Estate planning is a crucial aspect of managing your assets and ensuring your wishes are fulfilled after you pass away. Two common tools used in estate planning are trusts and wills. While both serve the purpose of distributing your assets, they differ in terms of functionality, flexibility, privacy, and cost. Understanding the key differences between trusts and wills can help you make informed decisions when planning your estate.

1. Functionality: A trust is a legal entity created to hold and manage assets on behalf of beneficiaries. It can be established during your lifetime (living trust) or through a testamentary trust that is activated upon your death. Trusts provide greater control over the distribution of assets, allowing you to outline specific conditions and instructions for the management and allocation of your wealth.

On the other hand, a will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding asset distribution after your death. It designates an executor who will oversee the probate process, which involves validating the will and distributing assets according to your instructions. Wills are often more straightforward, primarily focused on transferring ownership of assets to beneficiaries.

2. Flexibility: Trusts offer significant flexibility in estate planning. You can establish various types of trusts, such as revocable or irrevocable trusts, special needs trusts, charitable trusts, and more. These can be customized to suit your specific needs and goals. Additionally, trusts can include provisions for ongoing management of assets if you become incapacitated or require assistance in managing your affairs.

Wills are relatively less flexible since they primarily address the transfer of assets after death. While you can include specific instructions, wills may not provide the same level of flexibility as trusts when it comes to asset management and protection.

3. Privacy: Privacy is another significant difference between trusts and wills. When a will goes through probate, it becomes a public record, accessible to anyone interested. This means that the details of your assets, debts, and beneficiaries become publicly available.

In contrast, trusts can help maintain privacy. Trusts avoid the probate process, allowing your estate to be distributed privately and discreetly. This confidentiality can be particularly desirable for individuals who wish to keep their financial matters private.

4. Probate and Cost: Probate is the legal process through which a will is validated and assets are distributed. Probate can be time-consuming and costly, involving court fees, attorney expenses, and potential delays in asset distribution. It can also expose your estate to potential challenges from disgruntled family members or creditors.

Establishing a trust can help bypass the probate process altogether. Since trusts are managed by trustees, appointed by you, the transfer of assets to beneficiaries can be quicker and more efficient. Although setting up a trust generally involves higher initial costs, it can potentially save money in the long run by avoiding probate expenses.

Conclusion: When it comes to estate planning, both trusts and wills serve important purposes. Trusts offer greater control, flexibility, and privacy in asset distribution during your lifetime and after your passing. They can also provide protection in case of incapacity. On the other hand, wills are simpler and can address the transfer of assets effectively, though they are subject to probate.

Deciding between trusts and wills ultimately depends on your specific circumstances, preferences, and goals. It is advisable to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney or financial advisor who can provide personalized guidance and help you create a comprehensive plan that aligns with your wishes. When you have decided, give us a call or send us an email.

Samuel McMechan, Esq.

Office: 720-249-7852


McMechan Law,

13791 East Rice Pl. ste 118,

Aurora, CO 80015

Appointment only.