What Is The Difference between Will and Living Trust?

What is the difference between will and living trust? A will goes through probate, which is a legal process that validates the document and oversees the distribution of assets. Assets held in a living trust can avoid probate.

Probate can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and it is a matter of public record. When the creator of the trust (the grantor) passes away, the successor trustee can distribute the assets according to the terms of the trust without court involvement.

A will and a living trust are both legal documents that help individuals plan for the distribution of their assets after death, but they operate in different ways.

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Difference between Will and Living Trust (With Table)

Basic Terms Will Living Trust
Probate Goes through probate, a court-supervised process Avoids probate for assets held in the trust
Privacy Becomes a public document after probate Offers more privacy as it avoids the probate process
Time and Cost Can be time-consuming and costly Can be quicker and may involve lower costs
Flexibility Primarily focused on asset distribution Can provide ongoing management of assets
Incapacity Planning  Does not address issues of incapacity Can provide for management in case of incapacity
Asset Management No ongoing management during the grantor’s life Allows for ongoing management, even during incapacity
Court Involvement Involves court supervision and approval Minimizes court involvement, if any
Document Validity Takes effect only after the individual’s death Can take effect during the grantor’s lifetime
Type of Assets Covers both probate and non-probate assets Primarily deals with assets held in the trust
Legal Counsel Requirement Legal assistance often recommended Legal assistance often recommended

What Is A Will?

A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines an individual’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and the handling of their affairs after their death. In prose form, a will serves as a comprehensive and legally binding expression of an individual’s decisions related to their estate.

Within a will, the person creating the document, known as the testator or testatrix, designates beneficiaries to receive specific assets, be they real estate, personal property, or financial accounts. The document may also include provisions for the care of minor children, including the appointment of guardians.

Additionally, the testator often nominates an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will and managing the probate process.


One critical aspect of a will is its role in the probate process. Probate is a legal procedure wherein a court validates the will, oversees the administration of the deceased person’s estate, and ensures that the assets are distributed according to the testator’s wishes. While the probate process provides a legal framework for settling an estate, it can be time-consuming and may involve associated costs.

A will only takes effect after the death of the testator, and until that time, they retain the ability to modify or revoke the document. It serves as a vital tool for individuals to articulate their preferences regarding the inheritance of their assets and to provide clarity for their loved ones in the event of their passing.

A will does not address issues of potential incapacity during the testator’s lifetime. In cases where ongoing management of assets or healthcare decisions are a concern, individuals may explore other estate planning tools, such as living trusts or powers of attorney.

Legal counsel is often recommended when creating a will to ensure that it aligns with applicable laws and accurately reflects the testator’s intentions.

What Is A Living Trust?

A living trust, also referred to as a revocable living trust or inter vivos trust, is a legal document that individuals create during their lifetime to manage and distribute their assets.

A living trust serves as a flexible and comprehensive estate planning tool, allowing the individual (known as the grantor) to maintain control over their assets while providing for the seamless transfer of those assets to designated beneficiaries.


A living trust allows the grantor to place their assets, such as real estate, bank accounts, and investments, into the trust while retaining the ability to manage and use those assets during their lifetime. The grantor typically appoints themselves as the initial trustee, maintaining full control.

In the event of the grantor’s incapacity or death, a successor trustee—named in the trust document—assumes responsibility for managing and distributing the assets as outlined in the trust.

A living trust has ability to bypass the probate process. Since the trust owns the assets, they do not go through the court-supervised probate proceedings, resulting in a more efficient and private distribution of assets to beneficiaries. The avoidance of probate can also reduce costs and expedite the transfer of assets to heirs.

Living trusts are particularly valuable for incapacity planning, as they provide a mechanism for the seamless transition of asset management if the grantor becomes unable to handle their affairs.

The trust can specify detailed instructions for how the grantor’s financial and medical matters should be managed in the event of incapacity.

It’s essential to note that a living trust is a revocable document, meaning the grantor can modify or revoke it at any time during their lifetime as long as they are mentally competent. The flexibility of a living trust makes it a popular choice for individuals seeking a comprehensive and private estate planning solution.

Main Difference between Will and Living Trust

  1. Probate Involvement:
    • Will: Subject to probate, a court-supervised process.
    • Living Trust: Assets bypass probate, facilitating faster distribution.
  2. Privacy:
    • Will: Becomes a public document during probate.
    • Living Trust: Offers more privacy as it avoids probate.
  3. Time and Cost:
    • Will: Can be time-consuming and costly due to probate.
    • Living Trust: Generally quicker and may involve lower costs.
  4. Flexibility:
    • Will: Primarily focuses on asset distribution.
    • Living Trust: Allows ongoing management of assets, even during incapacity.
  5. Incapacity Planning:
    • Will: Does not address issues of incapacity during the testator’s lifetime.
    • Living Trust: Provides for management in case of the grantor’s incapacity.
  6. Asset Management:
    • Will: No ongoing management during the testator’s life.
    • Living Trust: Permits ongoing control and management by the grantor.
  7. Court Involvement:
    • Will: Involves court supervision and approval.
    • Living Trust: Minimizes court involvement, if any.
  8. Document Validity:
    • Will: Takes effect only after the individual’s death.
    • Living Trust: Can take effect during the grantor’s lifetime.
  9. Type of Assets:
    • Will: Covers both probate and non-probate assets.
    • Living Trust: Primarily deals with assets held in the trust.
  10. Legal Counsel Requirement:
    • Will: Legal assistance often recommended.
    • Living Trust: Legal assistance often recommended for proper setup.

Similarities between Will and Living Trust

  1. Both serve as estate planning tools, facilitating the distribution of assets.
  2. Both express the individual’s wishes regarding asset distribution.
  3. Both designate individuals or entities to receive assets.
  4. Both are legally binding documents.
  5. Both can be modified or revoked by the individual during their lifetime.
  6. Both allow the appointment of executors (will) or trustees (living trust) to carry out instructions.
  7. Both may designate guardians for the care of minor children.
  8. Both provide a mechanism for the transfer of assets to heirs.
  9. Both typically require witnesses for validity.
  10. Both may benefit from legal counsel to ensure proper execution and alignment with applicable laws.


In conclusion, the distinction between a will and a living trust is crucial for anyone engaged in estate planning. While both legal instruments share the common goal of facilitating the distribution of assets, they differ significantly in their mechanisms and outcomes.

Wills, subject to probate, become public documents, often resulting in a more time-consuming and costly process. On the other hand, living trusts offer a private and streamlined approach, bypassing probate and providing more immediate access to assets for beneficiaries.

The choice between a will and a living trust hinges on individual preferences, estate complexities, and the desire for privacy and efficiency. Wills are effective for straightforward asset distribution, while living trusts provide greater flexibility, especially in managing assets during the grantor’s lifetime.

Regardless of the chosen instrument, the importance of seeking legal counsel cannot be overstated. Professional guidance ensures that the selected approach aligns with legal requirements, effectively captures the individual’s wishes, and stands up to potential legal challenges.

In the end, whether one opts for the clarity of a will or the flexibility of a living trust, the ultimate goal remains the same: to provide a clear roadmap for the seamless transfer of assets and the fulfillment of one’s legacy.

It’s a decision that requires careful consideration, reflection on individual circumstances, and the expert insights of legal professionals to ensure a comprehensive and secure estate plan.

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