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Differences between living trusts and wills

On Behalf of | Mar 16, 2023 | Trusts

In California, having an estate plan is essential to ensuring that the intended wishes for your estate get carried out upon your death. Two standard methods to distribute assets include living trusts and simple wills. While both documents ultimately serve to distribute assets, these tools differ in several important ways.

Timing of ownership transfer

A living trust transfers ownership of assets while the assets’ owner is still alive. Assets placed in the trust will need to change their ownership to be owned by the trust.

A will can only transfer assets once the individual has died. This difference is one of the main characteristics setting a will apart from a trust.

Living trusts can protect a person’s assets from bankruptcy and creditors, making sure the proceeds go to the intended beneficiaries. The beneficiaries receive the same protection while their bequeathed assets remain in the trust.


One of the main reasons people choose a living trust is to avoid having their estate go through the expensive probate process. While a living trust could cost more to set up, it will save money later due to probate avoidance.

On the other hand, a will must go through costly probate; during the process, the will becomes a public record, whereas a living trust keeps the document out of probate and the information remains private.

Estate complexity

Some people have straightforward estates, and a simple will could be executed faster and easier due to the absence of detailed legal and administrative work.

A living trust involves more work, although it can handle much more complex and larger estates. A living trust works for any size estate and a parent can set up the trust to make regular distributions to care for a special needs child once they are deceased, for example, which a will cannot accomplish. A living trust survives after the person setting it up is gone and can provide limits on the timing and amount of asset distributions for children or grandchildren.


Both wills and trusts can have outdated beneficiaries, such as an ex-spouse or deceased family member. Once a will is written and executed, it typically requires no maintenance except periodically checking and adding or removing beneficiaries.

A living trust requires additional maintenance as the owner may move assets in or out of the trust, distribute assets to beneficiaries and perform other tasks while still alive.

Understanding the detailed differences between wills and living trusts can help you choose the best estate planning tools for your circumstances.


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