A family barbequing outside.

Wills vs. Trusts – Part 5

by Christine Steinmetz, J.D., Hotline Attorney

This post is part of a series regarding wills and trusts. Previous posts in this series can be found here. In our previous posts, we discussed that a will always goes through probate. We also began talking about how a trust avoids probate.

As we discussed previously, probate administration is the court process to distribute property owned by an individual at their death. If an individual does not own any property at death, then there is no probate.

A family barbequing outside.A revocable grantor trust avoids probate because the assets are transferred into the name of the trust, and you avoid owning any property in your name alone at death, and consequently avoid the need for probate administration. The terms of the trust can provide directions to the successor trustee on how to distribute the trust property after the grantor’s death. In this way, the trust acts much like a will, except that no probate court involvement is necessary.

Many clients call the hotline asking whether a living trust will save them money. A living trust will never save money for the person who creates it, due to the cost for the preparation of the trust document and the associated documents required to fund the trust. In addition, if real estate is sold from the trust, before or after the death of the grantor, a certificate of trust existence and authority stating that the trustee is allowed to the sell the property will typically be required. There are also additional costs associated with possible amendments to the trust in the future. The successor trustee will most likely need legal counsel to help him or her in complying with the requirements of the trust and paying any applicable death taxes. Although the living trust may not save you as the creator of the trust money, it will save money for your beneficiaries.

Another question clients frequently ask is whether they would still need a will if they have a living trust. Many people are surprised to find out that even though they have a trust, there is normally a will, called a pour-over will. A pour-over will transfers any property solely owned in the name of the creator of the trust at the time of death. The pour-over will “pours” the probate estate over into the name of the trust. Although the grantor may have transferred all of his or assets to the trust to avoid probate, a pour-over will is needed to act as a safety net, catching any property not transferred into the name of the trust during the creator’s lifetime.

In our next post, we will continue our discussion regarding living trusts and other alternatives. If you have questions regarding wills or trusts, please contact the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors at 800.347.5297 and our hotline attorneys will be happy to answer your questions.


Christine SteinmetzChristine Steinmetz is a Part-time Attorney at Elder Law of Michigan, and has been a member of the Elder Law team since 2011.

Mrs. Steinmetz graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in Business, Finance, and Management.  She received her Juris Doctorate from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan.  While in law school, Christine developed an interest in the field of Elder law as an intern at Thomas M. Cooley’s Sixty Plus Elder Law Clinic.

After graduating from law school, Christine worked for a Lansing law firm and later opened her own practice, The Law office of Christine M. Steinmetz, PLC, in Okemos, Michigan.  As a general practice lawyer, Christine has represented clients in a variety of legal subject areas, including estate planning, Social Security, housing law, family law, and criminal matters.  As an attorney at Elder Law, Christine advises clients on issues including Medicare/Medicaid, wills and trusts, estate planning, landlord/tenant, and consumer law.

Christine Steinmetz also holds a Certificate of Completion in the areas of probate and estate planning issued by the Institute of Continuing Legal Education and the Probate and Estate Planning Section of the State Bar of Michigan.

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