Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 -- Milwaukee, Wis.
Commonly I am asked, which is better, a will or a trust. My answer usually surprises people. "The type of documents matters far less, what matters is how organized are your papers." Probate, a simple word yet one that pushes people to take steps to avoid loved ones have to slog through the process. Wills do not avoid probate, rather they facilitate probate. Trusts on the other hand avoid probate (when created and funded properly) because they are a vessel to hold property outside of probate. At this point most people's eyes will glaze over: probate, non-probate, funding a trust....it's too much.
From my vantage point as an attorney, the choice between a will and probate is not key. Both have pluses and minuses, and you should evaluate those with an attorney licensed in your state. But what really gives loved ones a headache after you die tends to be things like:
- knowing a will or trusts exists, but having no idea where it is located;
- the emergency of finding a new care taker for your pets, especially dogs or other critters that cannot be left alone for more than 6 to 10 hours;
- figuring out who you owed money to -- we live in the digital age and many bills are on auto debit, which can be near impossible to track;
- the name of your accountant and or financial planner;
- contacting all the friends and loved ones that are listed in your email and or phone....both are likely not accessible if you are gone;
- tracking any digital assets (domain names, etc.); and
- finding addresses for the people who should know you have passed (i.e. high school friends, college roommates, co-workers, etc.).
Remember this, it's the little things that take up time and energy. So be cautious about how much you debate a will versus a trust, and instead put your efforts into being as Type A as possible in this one area of your life. If you do, it will be a loving last gift to your loved ones.