When it comes to estate planning, understanding the difference between a will and a trust is fundamental. Both serve unique purposes and can often work together to create a comprehensive estate plan. This article seeks to provide a clear differentiation between the two under Missouri law.
What is a Will?
A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines how a person's assets and property will be distributed upon their death. The person creating the will, known as the testator, can also name a guardian for their minor children in their will. A will only takes effect after the testator's death.
What is a Trust?
A trust, on the other hand, is a legal arrangement where a person, known as the trustor, gives another person, the trustee, the right to hold and manage assets for the benefit of a third party, the beneficiary. Trusts can be established during the trustor's lifetime (living trust) and can continue to exist after their death.
Key Differences Between a Will and a Trust
1. Probate: One of the primary differences between a will and a trust is the probate process. A will goes through probate, a court-supervised process of distributing the deceased's assets. This can be time-consuming and costly. A trust, however, bypasses the probate process, allowing for a more efficient and private distribution of assets.
2. Timing of Distribution: A will only comes into effect after the testator's death. A trust, however, can start distributing assets during the trustor's lifetime, depending on the terms set out in the trust.
3. Control Over Assets: A will allows you to retain full control over your assets during your lifetime. A trust, especially an irrevocable one, requires you to cede control of any assets placed into the trust to the trustee.
4. Privacy: Wills become part of the public record once they are probated, meaning the details of your estate become public. Trusts, however, are private documents and do not become part of the public record.
5. Cost and Complexity: Generally, creating a trust is more complex and costly upfront than creating a will. However, the cost and time saved by avoiding probate with a trust can make it a worthwhile investment.
In Missouri, both wills and trusts have significant roles to play in estate planning. The choice between a will and a trust, or the decision to use both, depends on individual circumstances, goals, and needs. Understanding the differences between these tools can help you make an informed decision about your estate planning strategy.