Do I Need a Will or a Trust?

By LouAnn Schulfer, AWMA®, AIF® Accredited Wealth Management AdvisorSM, Accredited Investment Fiduciary® , Published Author |

A client of mine called me the other day and said, “LouAnn, I know we’ve discussed this before, but I need a reminder.  My son was telling me how his in-laws had recently set up a trust, and I am wondering if I need one.”  Great question.  It’s one we get often.  While I cannot offer legal advice, I am happy to remind our clients how their financial assets will transfer upon death. 


Life insurance policies and retirement accounts have named beneficiaries.  Upon the passing of the insured or the account owner, the custodian of the funds will ask for proof of death, such as a death certificate and completion of beneficiary claim forms.  Other financial accounts can be set up with joint ownership, or with a transfer on death.  When the ownership is joint, the surviving owner then becomes the sole owner of the account.  A transfer on death is exactly as it sounds:   ownership of the account is transferred upon death of the original account holder.  In each of these instances, wills and trusts do not even come into the picture, because specific people are named as beneficiaries.  The process naturally avoids probate, as checks are cut or ownership is transferred directly from the custodian. 


My client and I discussed each of his assets: retirement accounts, life insurance policies, a home, a vacation property, and personal belongings.  He was relieved to hear that most of his estate planning had already been done, since the vast majority of his net worth was in his financial accounts.  As for his real estate, he is looking into transfer on death deeds as an option.  As for his son’s in-laws, it turns out they have a more complex situation, different from his.  We ended our conversation noting that merely owning assets does not always necessitate complicated planning, and that each person’s need is different for a will or a trust. 



LouAnn Schulfer of Schulfer & Associates, LLC Wealth Management can be reached at (715) 343-9600 or , or


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 Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. 

This information is not intended to be a substitute for individualized legal advice. Please consult your legal advisor regarding your specific situation.