Wills, Trusts and Estates

An estate lawyer specializes in estate planning and assists clients in drafting and implementing legal documents, including wills and trusts. Estate law is closely related to family law, since lawyers often must work with related individuals who are involved with an estate.

An estate lawyer deals with issues such as estate planning, qualifying for Medicaid, probating an estate, and obtaining guardianship of an elderly parent or grandparent. The estate lawyer’s role is to help a client arrange his or her financial affairs so that, upon the client’s death, the client’s assets are distributed exactly as he or she wishes and the tax consequences of distributing that property are minimized.


A trust is traditionally used for minimizing estate taxes and can offer other benefits as part of a designed estate plan.  Since trusts usually avoid probate, your beneficiaries may gain access to these assets more quickly than they might to assets that are transferred using a will.  Assets in a trust may also be able to pass outside of probate, saving time, court fees, and potentially reducing estate taxes as well.


This question has no simple answer since several variables must be considered in estate planning.  Consult your financial planner and lawyer for advice.

A will is a legal document that gives your instructions for distributing your assets after you die.  A will allows you to select an executor to manage the distribution of your assets, pay your debts, and handle other administrative duties.  In a will, you may name a guardian to raise your minor children if you die before they turn eighteen, and you may choose a property guardian to oversee any assets you leave to your children.  A will is not expensive to set up, but it must go through a sometimes costly, often lengthy legal process called probate before the assets may be distributed.

A trust is more complicated and more expensive to set up and manage than a will, but, after death, a trust does not have to go through the time-consuming, expensive probate process.  The beneficiaries receive their gifts immediately, or according to the trust instructions.


They let you:

  • Put conditions on how and when your assets are distributed after you die;
  • Reduce estate and gift taxes;
  • Distribute assets to heirs efficiently without the cost, delay and publicity of probate court. Probate can cost between 5% to 7% of your estate;
  • Better protect your assets from creditors and lawsuits;
  • Name a successor trustee, who not only manages your trust after you die, but is empowered to manage the trust assets if you become unable to do so.
  • Trusts are flexible, varied and complex. Each type has advantages and disadvantages, which you should discuss thoroughly with your estate-planning attorney before setting one up.

When it comes to cost, a basic trust plan may run anywhere from $1,600 to $3,000, or possibly more depending on the complexity of the trust.  Such a plan should include the trust setup, a will, a living will and a health-care proxy.  You should expect to pay fees to amend the trust if it’s revocable and to administer the trust after you die.


The Benefits of Trusts

One main difference between a will and a trust is that a will goes into effect only after you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as you create it.  A will is a document that directs who will receive your property at your death and it appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes.

Another difference between a will and a trust is that a will passes through probate.  That means a court oversees the administration of the will and ensures the will is valid and the property gets distributed the way the deceased wanted.

A will covers any property that is only in your name when you die.  It does not cover property held in joint tenancy or in a trust.  In contrast to a will, a trust covers only property that has been transferred to the trust.  For property to be included in a trust, it must be put in the name of the trust.

By contrast, a trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death or afterwards.  A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person (or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a “trustee,” holds legal title to property for another person, called a “beneficiary.”

A trust passes outside of probate, so a court does not need to oversee the process, which can save time and money, particularly on taxes.  Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record, a trust can remain private.



Estate planning attorneys are specially educated and trained to draft wills in accordance with state laws, to which they will be subject.  Given the amount of advertising from companies offering do-it-yourself wills, many people wonder whether it is necessary to hire an attorney.  For some families, a do-it-yourself will may suffice, but for most people an attorney should be consulted.  Whether hiring an attorney is the right approach to creating a will depends on several factors such as amount of assets, business ownership, medical matters, or whether children are involved.


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