How to Compare Trusts to Wills

By Shelly Morgan
Wills and trusts are very different documents.
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Wills and trusts are different ways of disposing of real and personal property. Key differences include who has title to the property, when they become effective and the parties involved.


A will describes how the assets of a person, called the testator, should be distributed when the testator dies. The testator makes what is called a testamentary gift directly to one or more beneficiaries. After the will goes through probate, the beneficiary has legal title to the property.


Unlike a will, a trust is created when the property owner--called a settlor--transfers legal title to a trustee who manages the property for a beneficiary. The property that is being transferred is called the trust res. Unlike the beneficiary of a will, the beneficiary of a trust does not obtain title to the entire trust res all at once.


According to the 'Lectric Law Library, a will is only effective after the testator dies. A trust is effective whenever the settlor wants. If the trust is created during the settlor's life, it is called an inter vivos trust. If the trust is created in a will, it is called a testamentary trust.

About the Author

Shelly Morgan has been writing and editing for over 25 years for various medical and scientific publications. Although she began her professional career in pharmacological research, Morgan turned to patent law where she specialized in prosecuting patents for medical devices. She also writes about renal disease and hypertension for several nonprofits aimed at educating and supporting kidney patients.