What is the Difference Between a Last Will and a Revocable Living Trust?

Graphic of last will and revocable living trust document binders

Last wills and revocable living trusts are the two most common estate planning tools. A simplistic comparison highlights that revocable living trusts do everything that a last will does and more. However, that doesn’t mean that a revocable living trust is the better option in every case.

Both last wills and revocable living trust packages allow you to designate who receives things you own after your death, who should look after your minor children (if you have them) and people for whom you’re responsible, as well as any end-of-life ceremony or other preferences you have. Furthermore, both last wills and revocable living trusts are revocable, meaning that you can change or cancel them in their entirety if you need to make updates based on changes in your life or desires.

Unlike last wills, revocable living trusts are effective immediately after they are created and funded, which can help avoid guardianship if you become unable to manage your own affairs. The other primary advantages of revocable living trusts are that they avoid probate, maintain privacy, and enable greater control over gift distributions.

Comparison of Last Will and Revocable Living Trust
Last Will Revocable Living Trust
Nominate guardians for your minor or special needs children*
Specify your final burial, cremation, or other arrangements*
Identify who you would like to manage the administration of your estate plan when you pass
Determine how to distribute your assets
Make gifts of specific property (e.g., personal property, real estate, etc.)
Exclude certain people from receiving your property
Avoid probate court costs and delays
Maintain privacy
Gain maximum control over gift distributions
Avoid guardianship

*Addressed through the Pour Over Will that works in tandem with the Revocable Living Trust

Is a last will or revocable living trust better?

Analyzing the benefits of a last will and revocable living trust in the above chart, it may be tempting to conclude that revocable living trusts are always better. That’s not true.

Choosing to create a revocable living trust or a last will is a personal decision driven by how you much value the advantages of a revocable living trust relative to its higher setup and ongoing maintenance requirements.

As a general rule of thumb, younger adults tend to prefer last wills over revocable living trusts because they are less expensive to create and require less maintenance to keep pace with the many dynamic changes customary in your late 20s and 30s. Furthermore, if you own less than $100k of assets with a relatively simple asset structure, you probably don’t need a revocable living trust and may even qualify for an expedited small estate probate proceeding.

As your assets increase in value, the complexity of your assets increases, or you want greater control and privacy, a revocable living trust makes more sense. Additionally, revocable living trusts are very appealing in states like California with complex, expensive probate proceedings because they avoid probate and transfer assets efficiently.

If you have a question we didn’t answer or need help deciding whether a revocable living trust or a last will is right for you, chat with our customer success team or see our recommendation by taking our estate plan quiz.