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What is a Will, and How Does it Differ from a Trust?

When you start thinking about planning for the future, understanding the tools at your disposal is essential. One of the first questions many people ask is, "What is a will, and how is it different from a trust?" The distinction in California is vital because each has unique implications for managing and distributing assets upon death.

A will, sometimes referred to as a last will and testament, is foundational to any comprehensive estate plan. This legal document allows you to dictate how your assets should be divided among your beneficiaries. You can also appoint a guardian for your minor children and designate an executor who will oversee the distribution of your assets according to your wishes. When you have a will in place, you take control of these decisions, preventing the state from making them on your behalf. This is particularly important in California, as the state's intestacy laws, which kick in when someone dies without a will, may not align with your personal wishes.

A Trust Complements a Will

While a will is essential, it is just one piece of the puzzle. A trust is another critical component of a comprehensive estate plan. A trust is a legal entity that holds assets, and you can set up different types of trusts to accomplish different goals. People often use revocable living trusts to allow their assets to pass without the need for probate. In this type of trust, you control your property during your lifetime and when you pass away, your successor trustee distributes the remaining assets to your successor beneficiaries.

To cover any property that is not transferred into a trust, it is a good idea to have a pour-over will that transfers any remaining assets into the trust for distribution. All property transfers are completely privately, unlike the situation where property passes through a will which becomes a public record when it goes through probate.

How a Will and Trust Work Together in California Estate Planning

In California, like in many other states, incorporating both a will and a trust into your estate plan can provide a robust strategy to ensure your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes. Each document serves a unique purpose. But how exactly do they work together?

  1. Seamless Distribution of Assets: You can establish a plan that allows most or all of your assets to pass directly to beneficiaries through a trust quickly, easily, and privately. Assets that form part of your estate but that have not been transferred into the trust can be folded in with the use of a pour-over will.
  2. Avoiding Probate in California: One of the significant benefits of incorporating a trust into your estate plan is the ability to avoid probate. In California, the probate process can be long and costly and is a matter of public record. Assets placed in a trust, however, can bypass probate, allowing for a more streamlined and private transfer of assets to your beneficiaries.
  3. Flexibility and Control: A trust offers flexibility and control that a will alone does not. For example, you can set up a trust to distribute assets over time, such as when a beneficiary reaches a certain age or meets specific criteria you've established. This level of detail and control ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes and in a manner that aligns with your values and goals.
  4. Protection for the Unforeseeable: Also, trusts can provide protection in case of unforeseeable circumstances. For instance, if you become incapacitated, your successor trustee could manage your affairs. If a beneficiary faces financial difficulties or legal issues or is not prepared to manage their own money, assets held in a trust can be shielded from creditors or legal judgments, ensuring that your beneficiaries receive the support you've intended for them.

So, while a will is an essential component of any estate plan, a trust offers additional layers of management, protection, and control over how your assets are distributed. When used together, they create a comprehensive strategy that can handle the complexities of your estate and ensure that your wishes are honored to the letter, while reducing the burden on your loved ones.

Contact Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC for Comprehensive Estate Planning in California

Estate planning is crucial to protect your assets and ensure they are distributed according to your wishes. At Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, we have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the estate planning process and create a plan that meets your unique needs. Call us today at 855-426-9111 or online to schedule a consultation with our experienced attorneys in Southern California.

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