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Comparing Wills, Trusts, Living Wills, and Power of Attorney

When you're planning for what happens to your estate, it's important to know the difference between the different legal documents that are available to you, so you can ensure everything goes according to your plan.

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Common questions

What happens if you die without a will?
If you pass away without a last will, this is known as dying "intestate." When this happens, the state decides what happens to your property and your dependent children. The laws governing intestacy vary greatly from state to state.

Learn more about interstacy.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process used by the court to decide how an estate will be divided. In general, a court will follow the directions in a last will, unless the will is successfully contested. The length of time and the cost to probate an estate depend on the value of the estate and where it is located. ,In certain situations, it may be prudent to set up a living trust to avoid the probate process.

Learn more about the probate process.
What is a living trust?
A living trust is a arrangement made (while you are still alive) to transfer your property into a trust for the benefit of yourself and others.. Since you are the trust's first trustee, you maintain ownership and control, but upon your death, the person who choose as successor trustee steps in to transfer the property according to your wishes, without needing to go through probate court.

Learn more about living trusts
If I already have a last will, why do I need a living will?
Though they sound similar, a last will and a living will are two very different things that serve different needs. A last will details what you want to happen to your property after your death. A living will, sometimes called an advance directive, dictates the medical care you wish to receive under certain circumstances if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate your wishes.

Learn more about the difference between last wills and living wills.
What's best for my state, a last will or a living trust?
The laws regarding what happens to your property after your death can be very complex and vary widely from state to state. In Texas, the probate process is relatively simple, and a last will is be sufficient for many people's needs. But in California or Florida, the probate process can be expensive and time consuming, which makes the living trust an appealing option, depending upon the size of your estate.

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Compare Estate Planning Documents – Last Will, Living Trust, Living Will, and Power of Attorney

You've worked hard for your money and made an effort to save, so it's natural to want control over what happens to your assets when you pass away. This is where estate planning comes in. Having a proper estate plan in place can help ensure your property and family are protected when you pass away, or if you become incapacitated. Many people are unsure whether they need a last will, living trust, living will, or power of attorney. Comparing a living trust vs. will or living will vs. will can help you decide which one is right for you. A last will and living trust offer similar protection, but most people need just one or the other. One of the most significant differences between a living trust and last will is that a living trust can be used to avoid probate. By creating a living will, you can make decisions about life support and organ donation in advance as well as name someone to manage your healthcare. With a power of attorney, you can name someone to handle financial and legal responsibilities if you become incapacitated. Compare last wills, living trusts, living wills, and power of attorney using the comparison chart above. If you need help deciding which documents are right for you, you can use our estate planning tool for further guidance. If you decide you need all of these estate planning documents, LegalZoom's estate planning package offers the documents you need plus one year of independent attorney advice at an affordable price.