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Wills and trusts: what is the difference?

Regardless of age or wealth, having an estate plan in place is important for all Oklahoma residents. Even if all you have is a vehicle and a meager checking account, those are still assets that must be accounted for upon your passing. The two most common estate planning documents that dictate what happens to a person's assets after death are wills and trusts. While many may be familiar with those terms, few may know the exact difference between the two.

A will is a legal document that spells out how you want your assets distributed after you die. You may appoint a representative in your will to handle your assets, but if you do not have a will, the court will make that determination, and it may not be someone you trust or even know. Furthermore, wills have to go through probate. During probate, the court settles the details of your estate, and the process can be long, cumbersome and expensive. Furthermore, a will can be contested during this time, which can lead to an even longer, and most likely more painful, process for your heirs.

A trust, on the other hand, avoids the probate process all together. The contents of a trust remain private, and the document is not required to be recorded with the courts -- this can be particularly preferable to those who wish to keep their personal matters out of the public eye. In a trust, you appoint a trustee who will gain control over your estate and administer your estate in accordance with the directions provided. You can also appoint guardians to care for minor children and family members with special needs. However, trusts need to be funded while you are still alive, and the process of creating and funding a trust can be more complicated than simply drawing up a will.

While each instrument has its pros and cons, both wills and trusts are important to an estate plan. Oklahoma residents who have questions or need to create a will or trust should seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney. This attorney can explain the differences between the two and draft the necessary documents to help protect your estate and achieve your desired goals.

Source: Oklahoma Bar Association Public Site, "Do You Need a Will or Trust?", No author, Accessed on Jan. 5, 2016

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