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What's the Difference Between a Will and a Trust?

Grandfather grandchildren difference between trust and will
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While a will communicates who your assets go to, a trust allows you to set specific instructions for how beneficiaries can access those assets.

What is a will? 

A last will and testament is a legal document that communicates how you want to distribute your wealth and possessions to various people (or organizations) after you pass away.1 A will typically includes information about who will be the executor — that is, the person who is in charge of carrying out the instructions in the will. If you have any minor children, a will can indicate who you want to appoint as a legal guardian after your death.

If you pass away without a will, what you leave behind — property, possessions, cash, financial accounts, and so on — will have to go to probate court. This means a probate court judge will decide which of your surviving family members gets what from your estate. If you have minor children, it also means that the state will determine who will raise your children into adulthood.

What is a trust? 

A trust is a legal agreement that holds assets on behalf of chosen beneficiaries. While a will communicates who you want your assets to go to, a trust allows you to set very specific instructions about when and how those beneficiaries can access the money you leave behind. For example, you can set up a provision like only allowing minor children to access money you leave behind once they reach a certain age.

With a trust, you also get to designate a trustee — that is, the person who will manage the trust. Their role is not only to follow the specific instructions you leave behind but also to manage your assets until all of the money is distributed to the beneficiaries.

Will v. trust: which is right for you? 

While everyone with financial assets or minor children should have a will, some people may also benefit from setting up a trust. Specifically, you may need a trust2 in addition to a will if you:

  • Want money or property to be carefully managed and distributed after you pass away (rather than just leaving lump sums to your loved ones). This can be especially important if you have minor or young adult children. For example, you may want to place some controls on when they can access the money you leave for them, how it's managed until they can access it, and possibly even what they can access it for.
  • Prefer to completely avoid the probate court process and keep your affairs private. Any assets mentioned in a will that are not also included in a trust must be submitted to probate court and will become part of the public record.3 By contrast, in most situations, the information contained in a trust can only be seen by the trustees and beneficiaries.
  • Have significant assets and want to set up tax planning protection on wealth you leave behind.

If you're not sure how to get started or what makes the most sense for you, Synovus is here to help. When you are ready to talk with a Trust Officer, call us at 1-888-SYNOVUS (1-888-796-6887).

Important Disclosure Information

This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

  1. Brett Widness, "10 Things You Should Know About Writing a Will," AARP, https://www.aarp.org/money/estate-planning/info-09-2010/ten_things_you_should_know_about_writing_a_will.html. Accessed October 5, 2018. Back
  2. Juile Garber, "A Beginner's Guide to Revocable and Irrevocable Living Trusts," The Balance, https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-the-definition-of-a-trust-3505391. Accessed October 5, 2018. Back
  3. Matthew Jarrell, "Will vs Trust: Knowing The Difference," Investopedia. Accessed October 5, 2018. Back