What Matters More, a Will or Trust? How to Decide What’s Best

trust vs will

What Matters More, a Will or Trust? How to Decide What’s Best

Wills or trusts. You’ve likely mulled that estate planning question over in your mind endlessly.
Believe me, you aren’t alone in asking what makes the most sense for safeguarding your assets. We’ve had that chat with hundreds of estate planning clients and families over the years.
Most of our clients come to us thinking a simple will checks all the boxes. “Just write down who inherits what after I pass away, have an estate planning lawyer draft it up, sign off on it, and review it every few years.”
And while that works beautifully for some, depending on their finances and worries, others need solutions with a bit more muscle built in upfront that only something like a living trust can provide long-term.
But the good news for you is there’s no need to box yourself into either/or choices just yet! Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, let’s discuss the pros and cons of wills and trusts for your specific situation.

What’s the Real Difference Between a Will and Trust?

The main difference between a will and a trust is whether you want the assets named in the documents to avoid probate. Probate is the court-supervised process for distributing someone’s estate to their heirs and beneficiaries after death. This process also involves officially authenticating the deceased person’s testamentary documents.

Trusts Cost More Upfront, Wills Cost More Later

A will directs property through probate, while assets in a properly executed and funded trust often avoid probate. This escape means the courts don’t need to validate the trust or oversee asset distribution (unless an interested party disputes the document). Instead, a trustee handles the transfer of assets privately per the terms of the trust agreement.

  • Wills direct assets to the probate court.
  • Trusts avoid probate for assets previously titled in the trust’s name.

Understanding whether probate is preferable for your estate is fundamental in determining whether to utilize a will alone or pair a will with a revocable living trust.
Now, let’s examine when executing a will as part of a Florida estate plan makes sense.

When to Execute a Will in Florida

For Floridians with smaller, less complex estates without concerns over privacy or their beneficiaries’ unique needs, a will may sufficiently document their final wishes. Wills have also historically been the centerpiece of estate plans. So, they provide a familiar, uncomplicated approach to asset distribution.
Some things a Florida will can handle include:

  • Distribution of assets not held in a trust, such as personal property.
  • Naming guardians for minor children.
  • Outlining wishes for pets or specific property.
  • Creating trusts that spring into effect at death.
  • Making charitable donations.
  • Specifying how to pay taxes and debts.

Laying out clear instructions that say who gets what when you pass away is obviously really useful. And if your situation changes, adjusting details on the fly through amendments keeps things flexible.
So for those priorities of documenting your intentions and maintaining control without huge upfront costs, wills check some nice boxes.

Why Having a Will is Rarely Enough for Most Florida Families

However, relying solely on a will for estate planning does come with a few potential downsides:

  • Assets must pass through probate, incurring court costs, legal fees, and a lack of privacy.
  • Delays – Florida probate can sometimes take nine months or more to complete.
  • Public record – Wills become public records when submitted to probate court.

Trust offers better advantages for larger estates or those wanting privacy or more control over inheritances and asset distribution.

When to Create a Trust in Florida

For those wanting to keep asset matters private or hold larger or complex estates, using a trust along with a pour-over will streamlines asset distribution and limits probate.
Trusts and durable power of attorney instruments also allow incapacity planning by naming backup trustees without court intervention when you can no longer manage trust assets due to illness or injury.
Here are some benefits of using a trust as part of Florida estate planning:

  • Avoids probate for assets funded in the trust’s name.
  • Trusts are not public records like probated wills.
  • Control over asset distribution via terms in the trust agreement.
  • Incapacity planning with named successor trustees,
  • Consolidates assets under one entity to simplify transfers.

Potential Drawbacks of Trusts

Trust benefits aren’t for everyone. Here are a few potential downsides:

  • Higher upfront costs – more complex to draft than basic wills.
  • Titling assets – must retitle accounts and property in the trustee’s name.

Despite these drawbacks, trusts paired with wills are worth considering for most Florida residents concerned over privacy or wanting to limit probate taxes. An estate planning lawyer can advise whether the instrument’s benefits suit your situation.

The Best of Both Worlds: Combined Will and Trust-Based Estate Plans

While less expensive, wills alone can only avoid probate with a trust’s help. However, trusts don’t negate the need for a will. The solution that provides the best of both while limiting drawbacks for many Floridians is an integrated plan with a will and trust.
Here is why this combined approach is ideal:

  • Trusts only affect assets transferred into the entity. Any assets not conveyed to a trust before death, like cars or personal possessions, would still need to go through probate.
  • Wills name guardians for minor children. Unlike trusts, wills legally document guardianship intent.
  • Wills establish distribution intent for personal property not named in the trust agreement.

By pairing a living trust with a last will and testament, you can privately pass trust assets to heirs without court intervention while documenting legal guardianship and distributing singular assets through probate.
This perk allows you to avoid probate proceedings wherever possible while preparing for potential probate needs.

How to Choose the Right Estate Planning Documents For Your Needs

While trusts and wills are essential estate planning instruments, your ideal combination of testamentary documents depends on your specific situation, goals, and asset profile.
Our experienced Florida estate planning lawyer can evaluate concerns like:

  • Estate size and asset types.
  • Need for privacy or control.
  • Special needs beneficiaries.
  • Guardianship preferences.

We can advise you on the optimal approach and which instruments to execute so your wishes are legally carried out upon death or incapacitation.

Schedule a Consultation Today

Ultimately, what your estate plan calls for will depend on a number of factors specific to your situation – assets, beneficiaries, tax considerations, business holdings, philanthropic goals, and more. Consult an estate planning attorney who takes the time to understand your complete financial and family picture. This allows tailoring both will and trust strategies to legacy goals and budgets alike.
As attorneys practicing estate planning for years, we have the experience to guide your decisions between wills, trusts, and hybrid approaches after thoroughly reviewing your unique priorities. Please schedule a free consultation so we can help determine the ideal estate plan suited to your means and your family’s future financial security.

Author Bio

Stephanie Vollrath is an Owner and Partner of Vollrath Law, a Florida estate planning law firm she founded in 2013. With more than seven years of experience in investments and financial advising and 13 years practicing law in Florida, she represented clients in a wide range of estate planning cases. Her practice areas include wills, trusts, guardianship, probate, and other estate planning matters.

Stephanie received her Juris Doctor from the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law and is a member of the Florida Bar and the Seminole County Bar Association.

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