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What are the differences between a will and a trust?

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Let me start with the definitions. I'm Leslie Sultan, and I am an estate planning attorney, and the difference between a Will and a Trust are complex. A will and a trust are both legal documents that help you plan for your future and help you to dictate where you want your assets to go after something happens to you. A Will is a briefer document. Sometimes it's only a few pages long.

Sometimes it can be done on a napkin, but essentially, it's a document that goes before a judge through a probate process. Your family will submit it to the court, and the court will have to review it to make sure it's valid. In some cases, require a bond for the family members who are trying to process it, and ultimately the judge will review it and distribute your assets according to your wishes.

A Trust is a little bit different. It's more complex because it does not require a judge's approval, and it does not require probate. And so in that case you're writing out a very explicit legal document to your family or your trusted loved ones or friends or an attorney to tell them how to distribute your assets. They both ultimately have the same end goal, but the processes in which they operate are very different. So, for example, ease.

When you have a trust done in advance, all your family may need to do is take the copy of what we call a trust certificate to a bank, and the bank will review that document and allow access to those family members to be able to access your bank account. However, with a will, that's not possible. A bank will not accept a copy of a will. You have to probate it and get a letter from a judge saying this will was valid and enforceable, and then take that to the bank. Where that matters is, if you need access, if your family needs access to those funds. The probate process is long. It could take anywhere from six months to years, and so the family has to wait until the judge approves it in order to take it to the bank, but trust will allow the ease to be faster and more efficient. Now there's cost differences.

Of course, a will, as I said, can be done on a napkin. It's a simple. It's a simpler document, so the cost is going to be less when you do a will versus a trust, which can range anywhere from $2,000 to $8000 for a standard revokable trust. Why is it important? Why does that matter? Because if you're paying more for a trust, you're paying for it now in your lifetime. But you're saving your family a lot of costs.

With a will You might have a little bit of expenses now, but your family can pay thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees through the probate process. I just saw a case where the family paid over $30,000 for a probate estate to attorney's fees, whereas a trust could be $6,000 to $8,000 so there's a lot of things to consider. If you'd like to discuss more, you can feel free to contact us or schedule a meeting.

Thank you.

About the Author

Image of Leslie Sultan
Leslie Sultan Esq.

Leslie has been practicing law since 2009 and is the host of the estate planning podcast 'Legacy Purse'. She has a long history of representing family members struggling to inherit property and/or wealth from deceased family members through the Probate Courts. Knowing how time-consuming and expensive the probate process is, Leslie takes great pride in helping her clients learn how to plan and protect their families during their lives so they can avoid the probate court process and save their loved ones that additional grief (and expense).


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