Whether to have a will or a trust or both is often discussed when embarking on the estate planning process. Arriving at the answer, as discussed in a recent article, “Personal needs, preferences drive estate planning,” from The News-Enterprise, requires a closer look at each individual’s situation.
The last will and testament doesn’t take effect until two events occur: the person who created the will, the testator, has died, and the will has been filed with the local court. The will is used to distribute assets owned solely by the testator. Jointly-owned property, property with a named beneficiary, and trust-owned property pass to new owners outside of the will.
After the probate case is opened in court, the will becomes a public record and is accessible in person and online. Other documents from the estate, which might include inventories of assets and information about property values, is also available to the public.
If it’s unsettling to think about strangers and scammers looking at these documents after you die, remember your estate planning attorney can explain your options, including trusts and beneficiary designations.
The personal representative is the person named in the will to distribute the estate. There are certain time restrictions to be aware of, depending on your state. All the necessary tasks, from distributing assets to selling a home and whatever instructions are in the will, need to be accomplished by a certain time. An estate planning attorney will help you map out a timeline.
A revocable will is not a purely testamentary document. It takes effect once it is established. A revocable trust can be thought of as in-between a will and a power of attorney. Trusts are not filed with the court, during life or after death, so their contents remain private.
The trustee—the person named to manage the trust—follows the directions in the trust documents to manage the property. If the trust directs that property be distributed immediately after death, the trustee does not have to wait for the will to be probated. The beneficiaries receive their inheritance as per the terms of the trust.
A grantor who is leaving property to children may find the advantages of a trust make it a better tool than a will. Funds can be allocated solely for college expenses or distributed only when certain milestones are reached. Note, however, that an inheritance trust can be created under a will, too. It is known as a “testamentary trust” in that case.
Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all process. The best approach for one person may be completely wrong for another. An experienced estate planning attorney walks clients through the process, so they are able to make informed decisions and create an estate plan to work best for themselves and their loved ones.
Reference: The News-Enterprise (Nov. 12, 2022) “Personal needs, preferences drive estate planning”