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Wills vs. Trusts: Which Is Right for Me?

Wills vs. Trusts: Which Is Right for Me?

When you have worked hard to save your money and invest your assets, you want those assets to be safe, you want them to grow, and you want to be able to live a comfortable retirement and generally have a say in who gets them when you pass.

Wills and trusts are essential components of the estate planning process. You don't have to be a millionaire to benefit from these estate planning tools. Everyone benefits from having an estate plan, even when they are of modest means.

While wills are used by a lot of people and considered the "core" of an estate plan, deciding to establish a will or a trust, or both, will depend upon your individual circumstances and your long-term goals. For some a living trust is an essential and practical tool, while for others it is not worth the time and expense. However, many of our clients benefit from drafting a will and establishing a trust.

What is a will?

A will a written document that expresses your wishes for distributing your property at the time of your death. For instance, your will can leave detailed instructions for who gets your family heirlooms, your furnishings, your photographs, and your art collection. A will allows you to nominate an executor to settle your estate and it can appoint a guardian for your minor children. Furthermore, a will allows you to bequeath assets to a close friend, a distant relative or a favorite charity that wouldn't stand to inherit in the absence of a will. A living will is amendable and revocable and it does not go into effect until after your death.

If you do not establish a will, your probate assets (assets that pass through a will) will be distributed according to state law. Generally the state distributes a decedent's assets to their closest living blood relatives and if there aren't any relatives, the estate becomes property of the state.

What can a trust do?

A living trust is established to provide lifetime and after-death property management. You can serve as the trustee of your own trust and manage it during your lifetime. Upon your incapacity or death, your successor trustee takes over and manages your trust according to your specific instructions for the benefit of the beneficiaries. With trusts, court intervention and probate are not required. If you are disabled in an accident or due to the symptoms of aging, your successor trustee can manage the trust property on your behalf.

When a living trust is properly funded, it can:

  • Avoid probate
  • Control what happens to your property after you pass
  • Provide for a special needs child

When considering whether or not you need a trust, you will have to examine a number of factors. Do you have a large estate? Do you have minor children or grandchildren? If you have an adult special needs child, a standard will would automatically pass an inheritance to that child who is incapable of handling a large sum of money on their own, not to mention they could lose their government benefits. A trust can provide for your special needs child without sacrificing government benefits. If your estate is subject to estate taxes, you may want to establish a trust with special tax planning provisions.

While a living trust can accomplish many of the same objectives as a will, a trust does allow you to accomplish certain goals that a will cannot. Whether or not a living trust is better for you over a will depends if the advantages outweigh the cost. When choosing, remember that each situation is different and what fits for one person won't work for another.

Your best bet is to meet with a Long Island estate planning attorney from The Law Office of Michael J. Brescia, P.C. in a free consultation to find out which arrangement would be best for you and your family.


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