Will or Trust: Which is the Right Choice for Your Estate?

A couple discussing a Will or Trust in Wisconsin

Will or Trust: Which is the Right Choice for Your Estate?

Estate planning is not just about managing your assets; it’s about securing your family’s future and ensuring your legacy endures. When it comes to estate planning, two fundamental tools often come into play: wills and trusts. Understanding the distinctions between these tools is essential to make an informed decision that aligns with your unique needs and objectives. At Dahlberg Law Group, estate planning lawyers serving Southeastern Wisconsin, we are committed to providing you with comprehensive insights into these essential estate planning instruments. In this detailed guide, we will delve into the definitions of wills and trusts, explore situations where one might be more suitable than the other, cover the different types available, and answer some frequently asked questions to demystify the estate planning process further.

Understanding Wills and Trusts


A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines your preferences regarding the distribution of your assets after your passing. It is a foundational component of estate planning that serves several critical functions:

  • Asset Distribution: A will specifies how your assets, such as real estate, investments, personal belongings, and more, should be distributed among your chosen beneficiaries.
  • Guardianship: For those with minor children, a will allows you to designate a guardian who will be responsible for their care in the event of your untimely demise.
  • Executor Appointment: You can appoint an executor in your will, granting them the authority to manage your estate and ensure your wishes are carried out faithfully.


A trust is a legal arrangement wherein a trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Trusts can be established during your lifetime (living trusts) or through your will upon your passing (testamentary trusts). Trusts are highly versatile and serve various purposes, including:

  • Ongoing Support: Trusts can provide ongoing financial support to beneficiaries, ensuring their needs are met over an extended period.
  • Asset Protection: They offer an extra layer of protection for your assets, shielding them from creditors and potential lawsuits.
  • Estate Tax Mitigation: Depending on the type of trust, they may offer potential tax benefits that help minimize estate taxes.

Will or Trust:  How to Choose

Deciding whether a will or a trust is more appropriate for your estate plan depends on your individual circumstances and objectives.

Will or Trust:  When a Will is Appropriate

A will may be more suitable if:

  • You Have a Simple Estate: If your financial situation is straightforward, a simple will can effectively convey your wishes.
  • Direct Asset Distribution: You wish to straightforwardly allocate your assets upon your demise.
  • Guardianship: You need to appoint guardians for your minor children, specifying who will care for them in your absence.

Will or Trust:  When a Trust is Appropriate

A trust could be the better choice when:

  • You Have a Complex Estate: If your estate includes intricate assets or you have specific goals for asset distribution, a trust can provide the flexibility and control required.
  • Ongoing Financial Support: You want to ensure long-term financial support for your beneficiaries, managing assets on their behalf.
  • Asset Protection and Tax Minimization: Asset protection from creditors or reducing estate taxes are your priorities.

Types of Wills and Trusts

There are several types of a will or trust that could cater to your various estate planning needs. Here’s an overview:


  • Simple Will: This basic will outlines asset distribution preferences and executor appointment.
  • Testamentary Trust Will: It creates a trust within your will, ensuring ongoing financial support for beneficiaries.
  • Pour-Over Will: This type complements a living trust, directing any assets not included in the trust to be “poured over” into it upon your passing.


  • Revocable Living Trust: A flexible trust that you can create and modify during your lifetime, maintaining control over your assets while simplifying distribution upon your demise.
  • Irrevocable Trust: Unlike a revocable trust, an irrevocable trust cannot be altered once established. It offers increased asset protection and potential tax benefits.

A couple figuring out a will or trust in Wisconsin

FAQ: Will or Trust

When Should I Create a Will or Trust?

Estate planning should start as early as possible to ensure your wishes are carried out, providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

What Are the Advantages of a Will or Trust?

Both wills and trusts offer distinct advantages. A will allows you to specify asset distribution and guardianship, while trusts provide ongoing financial support, protect assets from creditors, and can minimize estate taxes.

What Happens Without a Valid Will or Trust?

If you pass away without a valid will or trust, your estate will be distributed according to state intestacy laws. This may result in unintended consequences and legal disputes among your heirs.

Practical Differences Between Wills and Trusts

To grasp the practical disparities between wills and trusts, consider these scenarios:

Probate of Will or Trust

  • Wills: Assets distributed through a will go through the probate process. Probate can cause delays in asset distribution, lack privacy, and involve court oversight.
  • Trusts: Assets held in trusts can be transferred privately, bypassing probate. This expedites the distribution process and maintains the privacy of your financial matters.

Privacy of Will or Trust

  • Wills: Probate requires the filing of assets and their values in public court records, potentially compromising your privacy and exposing your financial details to anyone willing to pay a small fee.
  • Trusts: Trust administration remains private, as the court is not involved, and trust documents aren’t typically filed in public court records.

Costs of Will or Trust

  • Wills: Probate entails an inventory filing fee paid to the court, calculated as a percentage of the total value of probate assets. This can add up quickly and erode a portion of your estate’s value.
  • Trusts: Trust administration doesn’t involve court fees, preserving the full value of your assets for your beneficiaries.

Making the Right Choice Between Will or Trust

While a trust is the most efficient means to avoid probate, various tools, such as payable on death (P.O.D.) and transfer on death (T.O.D.) designations, beneficiary designations, and titling assets, can also aid in avoiding probate. The choice between a will or trust depends on the complexity of your estate and your specific goals.

For more comprehensive information on estate planning, please visit the UW Law School and State Bar of Wisconsin for valuable resources.

Ready to embark on your estate planning journey? Ready to choose a will or trust?  Contact the experienced lawyers at Dahlberg Law Group for expert guidance and personalized solutions. Your family’s future deserves meticulous planning, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.