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Why Should I Consider a Trust Instead of a Will?

Hi there, I’m Eric Ridley from The Law Office of Eric Ridley in California, and today I’m going to talk about a common question I get asked: why consider a trust instead of a will? Legal topics can get pretty dense, but don’t worry, I’ll keep it simple and easy to understand.

When you think about planning for the future, a will might be the first thing that comes to mind. It’s like leaving a list of instructions on who gets what when you’re no longer here. But have you heard about trusts? They’re another way to manage your assets; sometimes, they can be a better choice.

The Benefits of a Trust Over a Will

First off, let’s talk about privacy. We will go through probate, like airing your laundry in a public court. Trusts, on the other hand, are private. Your affairs stay just between us and the people you choose. 

  1. Privacy and Avoidance of Probate: Trusts are private legal arrangements where a trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of beneficiaries. One of the most significant advantages of a trust, particularly in California, is its ability to avoid probate. Probate is the court-supervised process of authenticating a deceased person’s will and overseeing the distribution of their assets. It can be time-consuming and public, meaning anyone can access these records. Trusts, by contrast, do not go through probate, keeping your affairs private and often speeding up the distribution process.
  2. Control Over Assets: Trusts offer a high degree of control over how and when your assets are distributed. For example, you can stipulate that your children only receive their inheritance at a certain age, or set up a trust for a family member with special needs without affecting their eligibility for government benefits.
  3. Flexibility: There are various types of trusts (like living trusts, irrevocable trusts, etc.), each designed for different purposes, offering a range of flexibility depending on your specific needs.
  4. Potential for Tax Benefits: Certain types of trusts can provide tax advantages for the person establishing the trust or the beneficiaries.

Wills Explained

  1. Primary Distribution of Assets: A will is a legal document outlining how you want your assets distributed after death. It’s simpler than a trust and is often sufficient for individuals with straightforward estate planning needs.
  2. Naming Guardians for Children: Wills allow you to name guardians for your minor children, something that trusts do not do.
  3. Probate Process: Wills must go through probate in California. This process can be lengthy and public. If your estate is over a certain value (in California, estates valued over $166,250 must be probated), your will is subject to probate, which can be costly and time-consuming.
  4. Amendments and Updates: Wills can be easily amended as long as you’re mentally capable. This flexibility is beneficial for those whose circumstances change frequently.

Trusts vs. Wills in California

In California, the decision between a trust and a will often hinges on the size and complexity of your estate, as well as your privacy preferences:

  1. For Larger or More Complex Estates: A trust can be more beneficial because it avoids the lengthy and costly probate process. This is particularly important in California, where probate can be more burdensome than other states.
  2. For Simpler Estates: A will might be sufficient, especially if the estate needs to be more significant to warrant the setup of a trust.
  3. Privacy Concerns: If privacy is a priority, a trust is usually the better option, as it keeps the details of your estate out of the public record.
  4. Combination Approach: Sometimes, a combination of trust and a will is the best approach. For instance, you might have confidence in the bulk of your assets but a will to cover any items not included in the faith.

Personalizing Your Estate Plan

I always tell my clients that estate planning is more than a one-size-fits-all deal. Your situation is unique, and that’s how I approach it. Maybe a trust is right for you, or perhaps it’s a combination of a trust and a will. That’s something we can figure out together, tailored just for you.

Making Estate Planning Approachable

I know this stuff can seem overwhelming, but that’s what I’m here for. I make estate planning approachable and understandable without all the legal jargon. Think of me as a guide, helping you overcome this critical decision.

Connect with The Law Office of Eric Ridley

If you’d like to learn more about trusts, wills, or estate planning questions, just reach out. I don’t bite, and your consultation is free. Call me today at (805) 307-7713 or contact me online for a free initial strategy session and get the help you deserve. Let’s ensure your estate plan works for you and your loved ones.

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Estate Planning Attorney Eric Ridley