Dying without a will means you have no control over your estate, and it has to go through the court process, passing on to your heirs in accordance with state laws. Even with a will, it can take time and money to show that the will is valid and start to move assets around -- especially if the heirs have any sort of dispute about the validity of the document. Though a will lays out some of your wishes, it does not really give you control.
As a result, more and more people are turning to trusts. They give greater control, making it so that the estate plan accurately reflects what the deceased wanted and making the process simpler for the heirs.
"The perception is that trusts are for the very wealthy and that they cost a ton of money to set up," said one expert in a recent interview. "The reality is a trust can be a fantastic tool for the average person or couple because it simplifies things in the event of your death."
If a person passes away after their assets are in the trust, the rules of that trust govern how the assets pass on to the heirs. The administration process is clearly defined, and the person still has a say in what happens with their wealth. Money can go to grandchildren for college, for instance, or to charities of their choosing. There are nearly endless options.
During the trust administration process, it is important for all involved -- the heirs, the trustee and everyone else -- to know exactly what legal rights and obligations they have.