Wills vs. Trusts in Michigan

two people going over a document

When it comes to estate planning in Michigan, two primary tools stand out: wills and trusts. Both serve the essential purpose of ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. However, they differ in several significant ways, from legal requirements to their impact on the probate process.

Understanding Wills in Michigan

Advantages of Wills

A last will and testament, colloquially known as a "will," is a legal document outlining your wishes as to the distribution of your assets upon your death. Here are some advantages of using a will in Michigan:

  1. Simplicity: Creating a will is a straightforward process that does not require significant legal expertise or expense.
  2. Testamentary Guardianship: You can designate a guardian for minor children in your will, ensuring their care in case something happens to you and the other parent.
  3. Flexibility: Wills allow you to specify how you want your assets distributed, including sentimental items or specific bequests.
  4. Cost-Effective: Setting up a will is generally more cost-effective upfront compared to establishing a trust.

Disadvantages of Wills

Despite their simplicity, wills have some drawbacks in the Michigan estate planning landscape:

  1. Probate Process: Wills typically go through probate, a court-supervised process that can be expensive and time-consuming, potentially delaying asset distribution.
  2. Public Record: Wills become part of the public record when probated, meaning anyone can access and review the document.
  3. Limited Privacy: Since the will becomes public, your estate's details and beneficiaries' information are not kept private.

Understanding Trusts in Michigan

Advantages of Trusts

A trust is another type of estate planning tool that offers distinct advantages:

  1. Avoidance of Probate: One of the main benefits of a trust is the ability to bypass the probate process, allowing for faster and more private asset distribution.
  2. Privacy: Trusts maintain the confidentiality of your estate plans, keeping them out of the public eye.
  3. Continuity: Trusts can provide for the seamless management and distribution of assets, even in the event of your incapacity.
  4. Complex Asset Management: Trusts are a valuable tool for managing complex assets, such as real estate or business interests.

Disadvantages of Trusts

However, trusts also come with certain drawbacks:

  1. Complexity and Cost: Establishing and maintaining a trust can be more complex and costly than creating a will.
  2. Ongoing Maintenance: Trusts require ongoing management and funding to be effective, which may require more time and attention.
  3. Limited Testamentary Powers: Trusts may not cover all your assets or provide the same level of flexibility as a will for certain specific bequests.

Legal Requirements and Implications for Michigan Residents

In Michigan, both wills and trusts have specific legal requirements and implications that residents need to consider when making their estate planning choices.

Legal Requirements for Wills in Michigan

To create a valid will in Michigan, you must:

  1. Be at least 18 years old or be an emancipated minor.
  2. Be of sound mind and capable of understanding your actions.
  3. Sign your will in front of at least two witnesses who must also sign the document.
  4. Appoint a personal representative (executor) in your will to administer your estate.
  5. Ensure the will is in writing.
  6. Include a statement revoking any prior wills.
  7. Comply with Michigan's specific rules and regulations regarding holographic (handwritten) wills.

Legal Requirements for Trusts in Michigan

Creating a trust in Michigan involves:

  1. Choosing a qualified individual or entity to act as the trustee.
  2. Funding the trust by transferring assets into it.
  3. Complying with any specific legal requirements associated with the type of trust you choose, such as a revocable or irrevocable trust.

Implications for Beneficiaries and the Probate Process

The choice between a will and a trust in Michigan significantly impacts your beneficiaries and the probate process:


  • Wills: Beneficiaries of wills must typically wait for the probate process to conclude before receiving their inheritance, which may take several months or even years.
  • Trusts: Trust beneficiaries can often access their inheritances more swiftly, as trusts do not go through probate.

Probate Process

  • Wills: Assets in wills must pass through the probate court, subjecting them to court oversight, potential delays, and associated costs.
  • Trusts: Assets held in trusts usually avoid probate, ensuring a quicker and more private distribution to beneficiaries.

Making Informed Decisions for Your Michigan Estate

Ultimately, the choice between a will and a trust in Michigan hinges on your unique circumstances, assets, and estate planning goals. It's advisable to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney at CFlegal, PC. who can assess your situation and guide you through the decision-making process. Additionally, it's essential to periodically review and update your estate plan to ensure it aligns with your current wishes and any changes in Michigan's laws.

If you have any questions regarding wills or trusts, contact us today at (810) 292-3115 for a free consultation.

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