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What Are the Differences Between Wills and Trusts?

When planning your estate, there are typically two approaches to managing your property after death: a will and a trust. They are not the same, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. It can be easy to confuse the two, especially if you are generally unfamiliar with estate planning.

In this article, we will discuss the specifics of each option and show how they differ. Generally, wills and trusts hold and distribute property very differently.


A will is designed to distribute all your assets after death. Nothing is held over or doled out over time. The ultimate goal is for the estate to be completely handed over.

With a will, you can dictate exactly which piece of property goes to whom. You could be incredibly broad, asking that all your property, physical and financial, goes to one person. For some, however, it is better to be specific. Perhaps they have treasured items that they wish to go to certain people. Heirlooms are often passed this way, for example.


Wills are managed through a process called probate. In probate, the courts verify that the person has passed and that the will is valid. Afterward, a personal representative (often called an executor) manages the estate. They pay leftover debts and bills, and they distribute the property to its recipients. The PR can be named in the will, or they can be appointed by the courts. Executors have a big job. They must manage much paperwork, and they must make certain all property goes where it belongs. For this reason, some choose a law firm to act as PR. This way, they know a legal professional is managing the minutia of the probate process.

Benefits of a Will

A Will Is Good for Smaller Estates.

They help regular people protect their families. With a will, you can pass your home, savings, and so forth down, ensuring that your family is cared for as they transition to the next phase of their lives.

A Will Is More Immediate.

Assets go straight to their recipients. This helps meet immediate needs. For example, passing a business and its assets to your heir can help them get to work right away. Similarly, a young person attending college can benefit from a lump sum, using it for tuition, books, housing, etc.


A trust typically doles out assets to recipients over time. People in the trust can be put on a kind of “allowance.” They receive a certain amount of money at predetermined times. A trust can do the same with physical property. For example, your grandchild can receive the family home when they turn 18.

Not all trusts operate this way. You could, if you wanted, use your trust to distribute everything at once like a will. If that is the case, then why would you create a trust at all?

Benefits of a Trust

A Trust Helps Protect Larger Estates.

Among those who work in estate planning, there is often a stereotype that by the third generation, money is often depleted. The first generation accumulates the wealth; the second lives off it, often making no contribution of their own; by the third generation, it is mostly gone.

Trusts help future-proof wealth. By creating allowances, it ensures that the money will not dry up, leaving your distance with a comfortable inheritance.

A Trust Can Continue to Operate on Its Own.

It may be helpful to imagine a trust as a separate entity. A trust gives your estate a “life of its own.” A trust can still accumulate money and manage the family wealth over time. You can appoint someone to manage such transactions, called the “trustee.”

A Trustee Can Make Decisions for the Estate.

Trustees manage your estate, helping it grow and accumulate for your family. They can also manage who receives money and when. If there is a member of the estate who is squandering their portion, trustees can cut them off. In less extreme circumstances, trustees can stipulate how the money should be spent. These actions are not necessarily punitive. Your trustee is someone who has your family’s best interests at heart. They can help teach an irresponsible person the value of their wealth, training them to make better choices and build their own sustainable estate.

A Trust Is Not Your Only Option.

There is no either/or between trusts and wills. Your trust goes on without you, making and distributing money for the family. You can also create a will alongside a trust, handing certain items to specific people.

Talk to an Attorney

If you are unsure of whether you should write a will, create a trust, or both, speak with an experienced lawyer. They can help evaluate your estate and guide you in the right direction. There is no “one size fits all” answer. Regardless of your estate’s size, you may find either or both options beneficial for your family’s future.

For help with estate planning, trust our firm to work with you, helping you make the appropriate choices for your future. Our number is (916) 299-3936, and you can contact us online.