Wills and trusts are both crucial estate planning tools, but there are some important differences between these two documents. If you’re interested in creating an estate plan that will leave a lasting legacy for your loved ones, Georgia estate planning attorney David J. Ward can help you determine what approach will best accomplish your goals.
Every Adult Needs a Will
A Last Will and Testament, often referred to simply as a will, is a legal document that outlines how you want your property distributed after your death. This includes items with monetary value, as well as sentimental keepsakes or family heirlooms. However, retirement accounts and assets with a named beneficiary designation pass outside the will.
Your will names an executor to your estate. This person is charged with paying your final debts, collecting money owed to your estate, and carrying out the distribution of assets according to the terms of your will.
If you are the parent of a minor child, your will may also be used to name a guardian. However, in Georgia, the standby guardianship option is often recommended over using a will for this task because it allows the person of your choice the ability to step in to care for your child if you become temporarily ill or incapacitated.
If your estate planning needs are fairly straightforward, you may be tempted to forgo professional advice and create a will using an online template. Unfortunately, this is one area where the DIY approach is ill-advised. Templates vary widely in quality, are often not regularly updated, and may not be written with Georgia law in mind. You could be inadvertently putting your loved ones at risk.
You May Also Need a Trust
Depending upon the size of your estate and your specific estate planning goals, you may need both a will and a trust. A trust is a method of estate transfer that allows the person you’ve named as trustee to handle your assets for the benefit of your beneficiaries. Although trusts are often portrayed in pop culture as being only for the super-rich, they are frequently used by middle-class families seeking added security.
Creating a trust requires additional up-front expense and can be somewhat time-consuming. However, a trust provides a level of protection that goes beyond what a will can offer. Some of the benefits of a trust include:
- Protect the privacy of your heirs by avoiding probate
- Reduce or eliminate gift and estate taxes
- Protect your assets from creditors and lawsuits
- Allow you to put limits on how an inheritance can be used, such as dispersing money over time or requiring that payments be used for post-secondary education expenses
- Make it more difficult to challenge the terms of estate distribution, which reduces the threat of litigation from heirs who are unhappy with the size of their inheritance
- Segregate assets when married couples have property that they wish to keep separate
There are many different types of trusts, but the most common is a revocable living trust. This is a trust that is created while you are alive. You maintain control of the assets even though you are no longer the legal owner, and you can amend or change the trust at any time. The trust becomes irrevocable after you pass away, and then the assets are passed to your named beneficiaries.
A trust generally does not include all of your property, so you’ll still need a will to handle the distribution of the remaining assets if you decide to take this estate planning approach. However, if you have a trust, your attorney can create what is known as a "pour-over" will. This is a simplified will that directs that all your remaining property be put into your trust.
How Can Our Georgia Estate Planning Attorney Provide the Peace of Mind You Deserve?
The Ward Law Firm creates customized estate plans that protect your assets while helping you to leave a legacy for your loved ones. Please call our office or use our online contact form to request a consultation with experienced estate planning attorney David J. Ward. We are proud to serve clients in Gwinnett County and throughout the state of Georgia.