A will instructs the courts on how to distribute assets of the deceased. Otherwise, a judge determines heirs and distribution. However, creating a will does not avoid probate court, which may be required to satisfy debts. Probate averages 18 months and may take longer with extenuating circumstances, such as selling a home or owning property in multiple states.
During this time, heirs are responsible for attorney and court fees because they do not yet have access to any assets. Finally, information filed in probate court becomes public.
A living trust names beneficiaries and allows them to receive assets even while the trustee (owner) lives. Assets belong to the trust, avoiding probate. A specified successor trustee becomes responsible for distributing assets after the trustee’s death. Methods of distribution, including outright lump-sum payments, parcels distributed at different ages, or parcels distributed by time interval, can be specified in the trust. A legacy trust distributes income generated from assets, potentially benefiting a family for generations as long as assets are viable. Finally, a trust can include provisions to protect assets against creditors or spouses, allow distributions to avoid disqualifying beneficiaries from aid, or require financial education or drug testing before receiving assets.