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The complementary – not dueling – nature of wills and trusts

Does it have to be one or the other?

In the universe of estate planning and administration, that is a question many individuals, couples and families ask themselves when they consider wills and trusts.

Because, indeed, many industry commentators and self-professed pundits often present those two crucial planning vehicles in an essentially zero-sum vein. It’s one or the other – not both.

Such a conclusion materially disservices wills and trusts, though, for this simple and fundamental reason: They are often highly complementary tools that work together seamlessly to promote planners’ best interests.

Seldom is it the case that an existing trust undermines the utility of a will, or vice versa. Often they work together to comprehensively safeguard planning goals, and they just as often operate to effectively advance differing estate objectives.

A recent article on wills and trusts underscores that. It stresses a will’s utility in terms of its being “a high-level set of instructions to be used after you pass away” (think of things like naming beneficiaries, providing inheritances, detailing charitable giving, family legacy goals and so forth). And it spotlights various trusts’ notable flexibility in advancing myriad and diverse planning aims.

Of course, many planners do opt to execute one or more trusts in lieu of a will for specific reasons like probate avoidance, select tax savings and privacy enhancement. Each planning case differs.

An experienced estate planning attorney -- preferably one that commands an integrated background in both law and accounting/finances – can provide timely and tailored advice concerning both the complementary and stand-alone nature of wills and trusts, respectively.

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