A person’s estate is all of their property owned at death.

If you have a Will, that document states who inherits your estate.  If you die without a Will, state law determine who will inherit your estate.   In both cases, if you have enough assets, a probate court has to supervise the settling of the estate.

A trust is a legal agreement in which a person (called a Grantor) states that one or more people (called Trustees) hold the Grantor’s assets for certain people (called the beneficiaries) subject to certain duties and the terms of the agreement.

The most common type of trust is called a revocable living trust, but there are others.  You might set up a living trust to hold certain of your assets (like your house) during your lifetime, and then give those assets to others at your death. Assets held in the living trust do not go through probate, which is why most people set them up.

But, you almost certainly own other assets in your own name (like your everyday checking account, your car, and your tangible personal property). These things are part of your estate, not your trust.  Normally you want to have a special kind of Will (called a pour-over Will) that says that all of these things should be added to your trust upon your death.

When you do this, there’s just one set of instructions about who gets what. And life is a lot easier for your heirs.

Liza Weiman Hanks is an attorney who specializes in estate planning for families of all ages. She is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. A graduate of Stanford Law School, she has also served as an instructor at the Santa Clara University Law School and practiced with the state of California and a prestigious Silicon Valley firm. Liza is also the author of The Mom\’s Guide to Wills and Estate Planning and The Trustee\’s Legal Companion. She lives with her family in Campbell, California.
Liza Weiman Hanks is an attorney who specializes in estate planning for families of all ages. She is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. A graduate of Stanford Law School, she has also served as an instructor at the Santa Clara University Law School and practiced with the state of California and a prestigious Silicon Valley firm. Liza is also the author of The Mom's Guide to Wills and Estate Planning and The Trustee's Legal Companion. She lives with her family in Campbell, California.