Difference Between Wills and Living Trusts
The Difference Between Wills and Living Trusts
January 25, 2024
The Difference Between Wills and Living Trusts

Estate planning can be a complex and often daunting process, filled with legal terminology and important decisions. Among the most critical choices, you’ll face in your estate planning journey is whether to utilise a will or a living trust, or potentially both. These two legal instruments serve distinct purposes and come with their unique advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, we will explore the difference between wills and living trusts, helping you make an informed decision when it comes to safeguarding your assets and providing for your loved ones.

Understanding Wills

Definition and Purpose

A will, formally known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines your final wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of your dependents after your passing. It provides a clear and legally binding set of instructions for the management and distribution of your estate.

Testamentary Capacity

To create a valid will, you must have the testamentary capacity. This means you must be of sound mind and understand the nature of your actions, the extent of your assets, and the consequences of your decisions. Ensuring you meet these criteria is vital for your will’s validity.

Legal Requirements

Wills are subject to specific legal requirements, which may vary by jurisdiction. In Sydney and throughout Australia, there are rules governing the creation of a valid will. These rules help ensure your will accurately represents your intentions and can be executed without complications.

Probate Process

When a person passes away, their will typically go through a legal process called probate. Probate involves validating the will, appraising the estate, paying any outstanding debts or taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. The probate process can be time-consuming and may involve court proceedings.

Public Record

Wills become a matter of public record during the probate process. This means that anyone can access the contents of your will once it goes through probate. If you value privacy, this aspect of wills may not align with your preferences.

Exploring Living Trusts

Definition and Purpose

A living trust, on the other hand, is a legal entity that holds and manages your assets during your lifetime and allows for the seamless transfer of these assets to your chosen beneficiaries upon your passing. Living trusts can be revocable or irrevocable, providing different levels of control and flexibility.

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts

Revocable living trusts can be altered or revoked by the grantor (the person who creates the trust) during their lifetime. Irrevocable trusts, once established, typically cannot be changed without the consent of the beneficiaries. The choice between these trusts depends on your specific goals.

Avoiding Probate

One of the primary advantages of a living trust is that it can help your assets avoid the probate process. Since the trust technically owns your assets, they can be distributed to your beneficiaries directly upon your passing, without court involvement. This can save time and reduce the costs associated with probate.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Unlike wills, living trusts remain private documents. They do not become part of the public record, providing a higher level of confidentiality regarding your financial affairs and asset distribution.


Living trusts offer greater flexibility in managing your assets, especially if you become incapacitated. If you are the grantor and trustee (the person in charge of managing the trust), you can continue to manage and control your assets as you see fit.

Key Differences Between Wills and Living Trusts

Distribution of Assets

A fundamental difference between wills and living trusts is how they distribute assets. Wills come into effect only after your passing, while living trusts can manage and distribute assets during your lifetime and after your death.

Probate vs. Non-Probate

Wills typically go through the probate process, which can be time-consuming and may involve legal fees. In contrast, assets in a living trust can be distributed without probate, potentially saving time and costs.

Privacy and Public Record

Wills become part of the public record during probate, allowing anyone to access their contents. Living trusts maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Testamentary Capacity

Wills require the testator to have testamentary capacity at the time of creation. Living trusts do not have the same capacity requirements.

Cost of Creation and Administration

The cost of creating and administering a living trust can be higher initially compared to a will. However, this cost may be offset by the savings in probate expenses and the added benefits of privacy and flexibility.

Choosing the Right Estate Planning Tool

The decision to use a will, a living trust, or a combination of both depends on your individual circumstances and objectives. It’s essential to consider the following factors:

Individual Circumstances: Your age, health, family situation, and financial status can influence your choice.

Goals and Objectives: What do you want to achieve with your estate plan? Are you primarily concerned with avoiding probate, ensuring privacy, or managing assets during incapacity?

Legal Guidance: Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is crucial. They can assess your situation and recommend the most suitable approach.

Combination Approach: In some cases, using both a will and a living trust can offer the benefits of probate avoidance, asset management, and privacy.

Advantages of Wills

Simplicity and Accessibility: Wills are relatively straightforward to create, making them accessible to many people.

Cost-Effective: Drafting a will is typically more cost-effective than setting up a living trust.

Specific Bequests: You can use a will to make specific bequests to individuals or organisations.

Nomination of Guardianship: Wills allow you to nominate guardians for minor children, ensuring their well-being.

Advantages of Living Trusts

Avoiding Probate: Living trusts can help your assets avoid the probate process, potentially saving time and costs.

Privacy and Confidentiality: Living trusts maintain privacy and confidentiality, as they do not become part of the public record.

Management During Incapacity: If you become incapacitated, a living trust allows for the seamless management of your assets.

Complex Asset Portfolios: Living trusts are suitable for individuals with complex asset portfolios.

Limitations of Wills

Probate Process: Wills typically go through probate, which can be time-consuming and may involve legal fees.

Lack of Privacy: Wills become part of the public record during probate, offering less privacy.

Limited Management During Incapacity: Wills do not provide for the management of assets if you become incapacitated.

Complex Asset Distribution: If you have a complex asset portfolio or wish to establish specific conditions for asset distribution, a will may have limitations.

Limitations of Living Trusts

Initial Costs: Setting up a living trust can be more expensive initially compared to a will.

Ongoing Administration: Living trusts require ongoing management and administration, which can incur costs.

Complexity of Setup: Establishing a living trust can be more complex than creating a will.

Limited Nomination of Guardianship: Unlike wills, living trusts do not typically include provisions for nominating guardians for minor children.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the difference between wills and living trusts is crucial when planning your estate. Each of these legal instruments has advantages and limitations, making them suitable for numerous different situations and goals.

To create an effective estate plan, it’s essential to assess your unique circumstances, consult with a qualified estate planning attorney, and make informed decisions that align with your objectives.

Whether you choose a will, a living trust, or a combination approach, a well-thought-out estate plan can provide peace of mind and ensure that your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes.

At Ignify Legal, our experienced lawyers specialise in will and living trusts and are ready to guide you through the estate planning process. Your family and loved ones deserve the best expertise and support that Ignify Legal provides.

Please call us today at (02) 8319 1032 or submit an online enquiry.

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