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What is the Difference Between a Will and a Trust?

Wills and trusts are foundational estate planning tools. While each is used to distribute assets to beneficiaries, they do so in different ways. Each also has its own distinct uses and advantages. They’re often used together to close gaps in an estate plan and prepare for multiple scenarios that might otherwise cause unexpected burdens for heirs.

What Is a Will?

A “last will and testament,” or simply, as a will, is the most basic estate planning tool. It provides instructions about what should happen to your assets — including bank accounts, real estate, investments, business assets, digital assets, and personal items — after you die.
A will may direct donations to charity, name a guardian for minor children and pets, and provide for funeral arrangements.
The person who creates a will ( the “testator”) names an executor to ensure that the instructions in their will are carried out, and that the legal requirements for administering an estate, such as paying creditors, filing tax forms, and completing probate, are fulfilled. (Probate is the court-supervised process of validating the will, overseeing its administration, and ensuring your assets are distributed the way you intend.)
Perhaps most importantly, a will guarantees that you do not die “intestate,” or without a will. Dying intestate leaves crucial estate decisions up to state law and the court, including how your assets will be distributed and who will care for your minor children.
It is a relatively simple, inexpensive process to create a will. Yet only around one-third of American adults have a will.
Wills should not be confused with living wills. A living will, or advanced directive, pertains to medical treatment preferences and end-of-life care decisions.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is a contractual legal arrangement that allows a third party (the “trustee”) to hold and manage assets on behalf of a beneficiary (or beneficiaries). The person who creates the trust is called the “grantor.”
The grantor can fund a trust with the same types of assets that are typically named in a will. However, the assets are retitled in the name of the trust, making them the property of the trust — not the grantor. A trustee then manages those assets, and distributes them to the trust’s beneficiaries, according to the terms of the trust document.
Different types of trust types achieve specific estate planning objectives. For example, a living trust allows the grantor to serve as trustee and control the trust’s assets during their lifetime. When they pass away, a new trustee takes over. Living trusts also offer incapacity planning.
Other reasons to use trusts are to avoid probate or reduce estate taxes. Someone may use a trust to place conditions on how assets can be used. (For example, a beneficiary may only inherit assets once they reach adulthood.)
Trusts, in short, provide more flexibility than wills and allow an estate plan to be tailored to many situations.

Will vs. Trust Differences

Wills and trusts are not mutually exclusive. Both are useful in achieving certain purposes and can work together in an estate plan.


A will becomes effective only after your death. A trust takes effect as soon as you create it and can distribute property before death, at death, or afterward.


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. A trust, conversely, covers only property that has been transferred to the trust. Property must be in the name of the trust to be included in it.


A trust usually has two types of beneficiaries. The “primary beneficiaries” receive assets/income from the trust during their lives. The “successor beneficiaries” receive whatever trust funds remain after the first set of beneficiaries dies.
Wills do not allow for successor beneficiaries, but they do allow for “secondary” or “contingent” beneficiaries. These beneficiaries serve as a backup in case your primary beneficiaries predecease you.


A will passes through the probate process, while a trust does not, which can save time and money. And unlike a will, which becomes a matter of public record, a trust can remain private.


Wills are not a tool for avoiding estate and inheritance taxes assessed at the federal and state levels.
Most estates are not large enough to qualify for these taxes. Those that do may be taxed up to 40 percent, leaving considerably fewer assets for heirs. However, transferring assets into trusts can avoid these taxes.


It generally costs more to set up a trust than a will. Actual costs depend on the estate’s size and complexity.
Online wills and trusts are available, but using these could lead to errors and clarity issues that throw your estate into chaos and jeopardize your legacy.
Work with Van Deysen Law to ensure your documents are valid and your final wishes are carried out.

Do I Need a Will or Trust?

Anyone with assets that they want to pass on to particular beneficiaries should have a will. Trusts are more appropriate on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you hope to avoid probate or estate taxes, or have jointly owned property not covered by a will, consider a trust.
One type of estate planning tool is not necessarily better than another. Which tools make sense for you depend on your circumstances and goals.
Work with Van Deysen Law to learn what legal documents should be part of your estate plan.

What You Should Know About Prepaid Funeral Plans

How Much Are Funeral Costs in the United States?

Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. As of 2023, the median cost of a traditional funeral, with casket and burial, was $8,300.
The average cost varies depending on where you live as well. Data from 2024 shows that average funeral costs (for burial or cremation) are highest in the following seven states: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Any “extras,” like flowers, death notices, acknowledgment cards, and limousines, can bring the total to well over $10,000.
The process of organizing a funeral or celebration of life for someone else is an overwhelming and emotional one. Many people consider a funeral or burial a reflection of their feelings for their deceased family member or friend. As a result, they may tend to “overspend” on these services.

Planning Your Own Services

Today, an increasing number of people are planning their own funerals or memorial services. They may also designate their funeral preferences in detail and sometimes even pay for funeral ceremony in advance.
In part, they may pursue a prepaid, or “pre-need,” funeral plan to help relieve their family members of the financial burden. They also do this to offer them some peace of mind. With plans already in place, their loved ones can forgo certain decisions amid their grief, when they’re likely also overwhelmed with other pressing tasks.
Prepayment for funeral services can serve as an effective Medicaid planning strategy, too. For example, you may be looking to apply for Medicaid and need to spend down your assets to qualify for the program. Opting into a prepaid funeral contract can help you do this.
In addition to burial or cremation costs like caskets, urns, or burial plots, you may be able to include other expenses in your prepaid funeral plan. This can vary, but may include:

  • transportation to a cemetery for your family members
  • floral arrangements
  • gravesite services
  • catering
  • services of a funeral director

What to Look Out for When Prepaying for Funeral Services

However, consumers lose millions of dollars every year when pre-need funeral funds are misspent. A funeral provider could mishandle, mismanage, or embezzle the funds. Some go out of business before the need for the pre-paid funeral arises. Others sell policies that prove to be virtually worthless.
In the 1980s, consumers received some protection from unscrupulous funeral providers with the creation of the Funeral Rule. Under this rule, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires funeral providers to give consumers accurate, itemized price information and other specific disclosures about funeral goods and services.
Unfortunately, the Funeral Rule does not apply to many of the features of pre-need contracts that fall under state law. Plus, protections vary widely from state to state. Some state laws require the funeral home or cemetery to place a percentage of the prepayment in a state-regulated trust or to purchase a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery. Other states, however, offer buyers of pre-need plans little or no effective protection.
The FTC recommends exploring several aspects of a pre-need funeral arrangement in detail before you sign up. Consult with your attorney on these ideas before signing anything. The following come from tips the FTC shares on its Shopping for Funeral Services consumer advice page:

  • Ask what will happen to the money you will spend on a prepaid contract. States have different requirements for handling funds paid for prearranged funeral services.
  • Get information on what happens to the interest income on the money you prepaid and put into a trust account.
  • Determine whether or not you’ll have any protection if the firm you dealt with ever goes out of business.
  • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
  • You may move to a different area or pass away when you are away from home. Determine whether someone can transfer your prepaid funeral plan if necessary. (This is often possible at an added cost.)
  • In addition, get details on exactly what you are paying for and compare this with other funeral providers.
  • Confirm that the price you are prepaying is final. You want to avoid anyone having to owe additional money to cover funeral expenses once you’ve passed away.
  • Communicate With Your Loved Ones

    Of course, you can avoid many of these pitfalls by making decisions about your arrangements in advance, but not paying for them in advance. Either way, tell your family about the plans you’ve made and also make them aware of where you’ve filed the pertinent documents. You may also wish to consult your attorney on the best way to ensure that your family members follow through on your wishes.
    If you’re just beginning to do your research and compare prices, connect with trusted loved ones on funeral homes they may recommend. See if one of them would be willing to join you when you make visits to different homes.

    Consider a Payable on Death Account

    To guarantee money is available to pay for your funeral, work with your bank to set up a payable-on-death (POD) account. (Note: Not all states offer POD accounts as an option.) Name the person who will be handling your funeral arrangements the beneficiary (and make sure they know your plans).
    With a POD account, you will be able to maintain control of your money while you are alive. Then, when you pass away, it is available immediately to the beneficiary, without having to go through probate.
    You be interested in exploring other potential options for prepaying, such as final expense insurance (also called burial insurance). Your insurance provider or Van Deysen Law can help you identify a suitable policy.

    What Else to Keep in Mind

    In some cases, it can be more convenient and less stressful to “price shop” funeral homes by telephone or online, rather than in person. The Funeral Rule requires funeral directors to provide price information to anyone who asks for it.
    If you have questions about your state’s laws, most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. Van Deysen Law also has the expertise to help you with planning and to guide you on your rights.