When it comes to creating a will or trust, even people who are otherwise responsible stewards of their finances tend to kick the can down the road. I’m no exception — as much as it pains me to say it, I let the task of updating mine slide for longer than I should have.
But the recent birth of my third child spurred me into action.
It was a reminder to make sure my family has a plan in place for managing our assets should something unfortunate happen to me.
It’s never fun to think about such a circumstance, but doing so will save your loved ones unnecessary stress if a worst-case scenario comes to pass.
In addition to the general unpleasantness of the topic, many people put off creating a will or trust because the process seems complicated, expensive and time-consuming. Also, many people incorrectly think they have insufficient assets to warrant such legal planning.
Fortunately, the internet has made lots of things easier, cheaper and faster than they used to be. So when I realized it was time for me to take care of this particular piece of business, I set out to discover if that fact holds true for creating wills and trusts.
During my research, I came across a company — aptly named Trust & Will — that simplifies the process and lets you create an estate plan right from your computer.
That’s why I decided to write this detailed Trust and Will review; I hope that it will give you the information (and motivation) to take this important financial planning step.
Trust & Will Review: Who Needs an Estate Plan?
Do you have a family? If so, then you need an estate plan.
An estate plan is a set of legal documents that lays out things like who can make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated, where your assets go after your death, and who will raise your minor children if you and their other parent or guardian both pass away.
I think we can all agree that those are pretty important things to define ahead of time. But many people fail to plan for those tragic situations, and that failure can cause serious problems. If you die without an estate plan, the intestacy laws of the state you live in determine how your assets are handled — and those laws may not distribute them the same way you would have wanted.
The laws vary not only by state, but also depending on your family situation (e.g., if you’re married or single, if you have children, etc.). The point is, without an estate plan, it’s the government, not you — and not necessarily your family — who decides what to do with your assets.
Trust & Will Overview
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you need an estate plan. Trust & Will may be the ideal solution. It allows you to quickly and inexpensively create an estate plan online. The process typically takes less than 30 minutes.
Trust & Will offers three core services: trusts, wills, and nomination of guardians. The documents you receive at the end of the process will be legally-binding according to the laws in your state of primary residence.
Trusts: A trust-based estate plan allows you to place assets like cash, bank accounts, property, businesses, and investments into the stewardship of a third party, who is called a trustee. Once established, a trust allows your beneficiaries to avoid the often lengthy and expensive probate court process that wills typically go through. A trust is also not a matter of public record, whereas a will is.
Trust & Will provides the following documents that are necessary to create a trust-based estate plan.
- Revocable Living Trust: This is the central document in your estate plan. It outlines the management and distribution of your assets in life and after death.
- Schedule of Assets: This lists the assets placed in the trust; it can be revised to add and/or remove assets at a later date.
- Pour-Over Will: Details your final wishes for your beneficiaries as outlined in the trust.
- HIPAA Authorization: Allows designated individuals to be privy to your private health information for specific purposes.
- Medical Power of Attorney: Grants power to another person to make medical decisions on your behalf (if you’re unable to make them yourself).
- Living Will: Details the kind of medical treatment you want (and don’t want) if you’re unable to voice your preference at the time treatment needs to be rendered.
Wills: A will distributes your property under an executor. However, it must go through the probate court process before any assets can be distributed to your beneficiaries. As noted previously, a will is a matter of public record, which means that anyone has a right to read it.
Trust & Will provides the following documents that are necessary to create a will-based estate plan.
- Last Will & Testament
- Medical Power of Attorney
- HIPAA Authorization
- Living Will
Nomination of Guardian: If you aren’t ready to make a will, you can use this document to name a guardian for your minor children.
Trust & Will can also provide you with HIPPA Authorization and a Living Will as stand-alone documents.
Trusts vs. Wills: Determining Your Family’s Needs
We often think of trusts as tools utilized primarily by the super-rich. Not only is that inaccurate, the bar for trust utilization is a lot lower than you probably think. Many estate planning experts agree that if you have more than $100,000 in assets, you should create a trust. In other words, if you own a house, you should at least consider creating a trust.
If you want your assets to be distributed at a certain time (e.g., after the beneficiary turns 25), in increments (e.g., $25,000 per year for four years), or to designate what your money can be used for (e.g., only to purchase a home, or only for education expenses), you need a trust.
A will does not have the power to enforce any of the aforementioned stipulations. Assets in your will are distributed in lump-sum once the probate court process is over.
How Trust & Will Works
Given all these legal concepts, you might be thinking that setting up an estate plan with Trust & Will is a tedious, hours-long process. It’s not.
In fact, I’ve done it myself. The process only took about 20 minutes from start to finish, and the company guides you through everything step-by-step. That said, there are a few things that you can do to make the process as smooth as possible.
Note: Trust & Will allowed me to test out their software at no cost. No review or promotion was guaranteed in exchange for writing this review.
- Approach the person (or people) you want to name as the guardian(s) of your minor children. You’re asking them to take on what is one of the biggest responsibilities in life, so it’s important to make sure they’re willing and able.
- Make a list of the tangible assets you want to go to specific individuals, such as jewelry, works of art, and family heirlooms. Then, make a list of your financial assets, including any businesses you own, their value, their location, and how to access them (account numbers, passwords, user names, etc.), along with who you want to leave those assets to. I use Personal Capital, and it really came in handy here because it shows all of your financial assets in one place.
- Decide what happens to your social media accounts after you’re gone. If you care about this, you’ll want to create a list of usernames and passwords for these sites, decree what you want to be done with them (deleted, made private, etc.), and designate who you want to control them. This might seem like small potatoes, but we live an increasingly large portion of our lives online — pictures, contacts, all kinds of things that might be cherished by your descendants live eternally in the cloud. However, in most cases, companies like Google and Facebook are not legally allowed to hand your accounts over to your family without your express authorization. So, if you don’t take this step, all of that data can end up permanently locked away.
- The final thing to consider before sitting down to create your estate plan is what kind of final arrangements you want. Do you want to be cremated, and do you want a certain song to play at your ceremony? Do you want to set up a scholarship fund, in lieu of flowers or gifts for your family? Some people don’t care about their final arrangements, but many view it as one last chance to leave an impression on their friends and family. If that’s you, then you need to spell it out in as much detail as possible.
Once you have all of this information in hand, you can sit down and get started. You can create an account with Trust & Will by using your email, or by signing in with your Google or Facebook account. Answer some general questions about your assets and your family, and then choose the product you want to utilize.
In order to create your legal documents, you’ll need to provide more detailed information. The information will vary according to which document you’re creating, and can include:
- General information about your family members, including pets.
- Basic information detailing assets for a trust.
- Name guardians for your minor children and any pets.
- Name a trustee for your trust.
- Name an executor for your will-based estate.
- Name beneficiaries and specific bequests.
- Decisions related to health care and end-of-life.
- Funeral-related decisions.
While you’re answering these questions, there are plenty of prompts along that way that will help if you’re stuck on something, and you can live-chat with a customer service representative. Once you’ve provided the necessary information, Trust & Will will start building your estate documents with customized templates created by attorneys according to the laws and requirements of your state of primary residence.
Once the documents are ready, you can either print them or have Trust & Will ship them to you for free. None of these documents are legally binding until they’re signed and notarized (often in the presence of two witnesses). Once you’ve completed that step, the documents are fully legal and your estate is planned. These documents should be kept in a secure location, such as a safety deposit box, and the trustee or executor should be given a copy.
Even though your estate plan is complete, it isn’t necessarily final. When you experience major life changes, like a marriage, a divorce or the birth of children, your plan needs to be updated. The same is true of many minor life changes, like switching investment providers. Any time these changes occur, you can log into your Trust & Will account and make updates for free for up to one year after creating your original plan. After that first year, you can pay $10 per year and make an unlimited number of updates.
Trust & Will: The Cost
|Product Type||Cost For You||Cost For Your Spouse|
|Nomination of Guardian||$39||$10|
Is Trust & Will Right for Your Family?
If your family and financial situation are fairly straightforward and uncomplicated, Trust & Will can likely provide you with the estate planning documents you need. However, if you’ve been married more than once, or have homes, businesses and other assets spread across multiple states, you will probably need to work one-on-one with an attorney who specializes in estate planning.
Whatever your situation, and whatever decisions you have yet to make (or don’t want to think about), I urge any of you who have minor children to at least go to Trust & Will and create the Nomination of Guardian document, which can be completed independently of a trust or a will. No one imagines that they and their child’s other parent will both die before that child is of age, but we all know that sometimes tragic events take place.
The Pros and Cons of Trust & Will
In my career as a Certified Financial Planner™, I met a lot of clients who didn’t have an estate plan. Like most people, they were intimidated by what they thought was a complicated and costly process. For years, estate planning was complicated and costly. But like lots of other things, the internet has democratized the process.
Still, there are a few downsides to Trust & Will. Let’s see which way the scale tips.
- The simplicity. Answer a few questions and you’re on your way to creating an estate plan.
- The speed. Most plans can be created in 30 minutes or less.
- The convenience. You can create an estate plan from your computer without having to meet with anyone (or even speak to anyone on the phone).
- The price. Almost anyone can afford to create an estate plan with Trust & Will, and doing so is far cheaper than hiring an estate attorney.
- The service isn’t ala carte, as are some similar services. That means you get all of the required documents necessary to create an estate plan when you choose a trust-based or will-based plan. You don’t have to choose each individual document, which can be confusing for a layperson.
- Standardization. There’s no option to get personalized legal advice from an attorney.
- Not suitable for complex financial situations. Trust & Will isn’t designed to handle estate planning for those with complicated assets or family situations.
My Experience with Trust & Will
As you may have already figured out, I had a very good experience with Trust & Will. If you gather the necessary information, the entire set up process can be completed in minutes — about 20 minutes, in my case. The cost was hundreds of dollars less than if I had consulted with an estate planning attorney.
Most importantly, updating my estate plan lifted a burden off my shoulders and gave me peace of mind. My wife and I had discussed updating our plan many times — but we hadn’t taken action for years. A lot has changed since then: our family has grown, we’ve added different investments, and this website has increased in value.
Just as life insurance is a key aspect of ensuring a stable future for your family, a trust or will helps provide certainty about what will happen in a worst-case scenario.
If you’re the type of person who (like me) has put off dealing with your estate planning for far too long, then you won’t be disappointed by the seamless process that Trust & Will provides. It offers an array of easy-to-use online services that will have you set up with online will or trust documents in a fraction of the time (and for a fraction of the cost) associated with traditional legal services providers.