The reality is that estate planning involves several complicated phrases and documents, like “executor” and “power of attorney.” Perhaps two of the most asked about documents are the estate planning tools of the Will and Trust. While there are definite distinctions between the two, it’s likely that your estate plan should include both and a skilled estate planning lawyer can help you make the right decisions.
What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that goes into effect at the time of your death. A Will generally allows people to:
- Name a guardian for minor children (in the unlikely event they lose both parents),
- Distribute assets and property to loved ones, family members, or charities (in accordance with your specific wishes), and
- Designate an executor (who helps carry out the wishes in your Will).
Note that a Will goes through probate, which is essentially the legal process where a court (a probate court) oversees the Will’s execution. The probate court judge helps make certain that the executor is acting in accordance with the wishes specified in the given Will.
If a person dies without a Will, that person’s estate is what is called “intestate.” Intestate means that Washington Law of Intestacy dictates how your estate gets distributed, even though that may not be the way you want your estate divided and your property distributed.
What is a Trust?
A Trust is an estate planning tool that is distinct from a Will. Many people often use a Trust to augment their Wills.
Like a Will, a Trust can help distribute a person’s assets. However, unlike Wills (which go into effect upon the creator’s death), Trusts are activated upon their creation. This means that you can use a Trust to address the distribution of assets prior to your death.
Further, people frequently use Trusts to avoid premature estate taxes. Such taxes run the risk of needlessly deflating an estate before it gets to the beneficiaries.
Note that, unlike Wills, Trusts are not subject to probate. In addition, disgruntled family members cannot contest them (unlike with a Will).
While it’s usually a good idea for a person to include both a Will and a Trust in their estate plan, the specific need for a Trust often depends on many factors, including:
- The age of your children,
- The gross value of your estate,
- Whether you have any “special-need” dependents,
- Children with substance abuse,
- Investment assets/securities, and
- Real estate held outside of Washington State.
Contact The McWilliams Law Group for Help
The established California and Washington estate planning attorneys at the McWilliams Law Group help you prepare for the future today. Our attorneys can help you determine whether your estate plan requires a Will, a Trust, or both.
In particular, we provide legal assistance with the following:
- Will drafting, execution and review
- Living Trusts
- Advance healthcare directives (living Wills)
- Powers of attorney
- Estate and gift tax issues
- Guardianships and conservatorships
- Choosing the appropriate executor and/or trustee
The skilled attorneys at our firm can help thoroughly analyze your estate and strategize the best means of transferring your assets, minimizing taxes, establishing guardianship, and supporting philanthropic causes. Contact us now and let us help protect your personal security, family, and legacy.