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Difference Between a Will and a Trust

Many people use the terms “will” and “trust” interchangeably, but these documents are very different. In many cases, it’s wise to set up both a will and a trust as components of a comprehensive estate plan.

What Is a Will?

A will is a legal document that names who you want to receive your property upon your death, defines final wishes and nominates a guardian for surviving minor children.

An executor is someone responsible for carrying out the wishes of the will.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is a legal document that establishes what you want to happen:

  1. To your property after you're gone.
  2. To you if you become incapacitated.

In short, both a will and a trust allow you to: make your wishes known; choose a person to settle your affairs on your behalf; decide who receives your assets upon your passing.

What Are the Differences Between a Will and a Trust?

There are a few distinguishing factors between a will and a trust that include:

  1. Timing: A will does not come into effect until after death, whereas a trust takes effect immediately.
  2. Control: If you become incapacitated and have only created a will, the court will appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs. In contrast, trusts allow you to serve as trustee over your assets during your lifetime. If you become incapacitated, the back-up trustee designated in your trust manages your assets for you and your beneficiaries. You have control over who you name as your successor trustee, so a court-appointed guardian or conservator is unnecessary.
  3. Probate: Upon death, wills must be submitted to the probate court for administration. Probate is the public court process that distributes assets to the correct people, including beneficiaries identified in your will or heirs as determined by state law. In many cases, probate can be a time-consuming, expensive process. If you have a trust in place when you pass away, your trustee will step in to manage and distribute your assets according to the terms you set. No probate court involvement is necessary, and unlike probate, trusts are privately administered.

Differences Between a Will and a Trust

Will Trust
Effective Date
Death and incapacity
Avoids Probate
Provides Incapacity Plan
Requires Funding
Provides Maximum Control to Creator
Names a Guardian for Minors

Do I Need a Trust If I Have a Will?

A comprehensive estate plan will typically include both a will and a trust. By creating both, you will keep control over your assets in the events of incapacity and death, avoid probate, maintain privacy, name a guardian for underage children, and ensure that family, friends, and charitable organizations receive distributions in accordance with your wishes. They are both an essential part of your long-term financial plan.


It's important to meet with a qualified estate planning attorney or trust officer about how to best protect your assets and beneficiaries. Need help finding an attorney to get started? Want to know more about managing an estate? BECU Trust Services is here when you need us. Call 206-812-5176 or email

This article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific legal or tax advice. For specific legal or tax advice, please consult with your attorney and/or accountant. Trust services are provided by Members® Trust Company, a federal thrift regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Trust and Investment products are uninsured, not guaranteed by Members Trust Company, any credit union or any federal agency. Any investment exposes an investor to investment risk, including the possible loss of principal.