3 out of 4 stars
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If you’re thinking you’ll do some estate planning when—fill in the blank—you might want to read attorney Taylor Phillip Willingham’s latest book. Do I Need a Will or a Trust? explores the circumstances that call for each document and the importance of understanding the difference. Willingham states simply that only some people need a trust, but everyone needs a will. The question is: Do you need a trust?
Both documents facilitate distribution of your property when you die, but the similarity ends there. A will activates after you die; a trust takes effect the moment it is created and can serve many purposes. Trusts cost more than wills and can address more complicated circumstances, usually involving protecting one entity from another. Protecting the spouse from the kids (or vice versa), the kids from creditors, or yourself from your older self are some common examples. If your son spends recklessly, a trust can outline the circumstances under which he will receive the inheritance. The ability to avoid lengthy probate is also a common benefit of trusts. The author provides dozens of examples of these scenarios that call for a trust over a will.
To assist the reader’s understanding of complex concepts, the author employs footnotes, diagrams, and glossaries, including a handy flowchart to help readers decide which document they need. Most of Willingham’s language is accessible, considering the legal nature, though I did Google a few confusing concepts.
I enjoyed the cautionary anecdotes illustrating the importance of adequate planning. From the widow who lost her inheritance when her late husband’s secret love child arrived, to the man whose surviving spouse disinherited his children after he died, scary possibilities abound. The author emphasizes the importance of planning for blended families. He describes seemingly endless risks in this realm and strongly recommends a trust.
Willingham’s content is strong, and he packs this relatively short book (175 pages) with expert advice. The presentation is where some problems emerge. The layout and formatting are rough, with widowed and orphaned lines, and inconsistent—or nonexistent—margins around figures and photos. The top of each page contains a colorful, slightly off-center graphic that resembles a confetti puffball. It slightly obscures the first line of text just enough to be distracting. A more understated graphic would be cleaner. While the book appears to be edited for content, I found quite a few punctuation errors.
The dedication that kicks off the book warrants mentioning. Directed toward a woman who gave the author a bad review, the comment implies that the woman’s criticism reflected her incompetence rather than Willingham’s messaging. I don’t know why the author chose this self-important comment to lead off the book. It’s a bad way to kick off a good book, and it influenced my overall impression of the author. I encourage a different choice in subsequent editions.
Given Taylor Phillip Willingham’s comprehensive treatment of the subject matter, along with the formatting and layout problems, I award Do I Need a Will or a Trust? 3 out of 4 stars. If your will is already tucked away in a firebox, you might still consult this book to see if a trust would be indicated instead. Adults in any phase of estate planning will benefit from what this author has to say. What he doesn’t say is to go ahead and wait until you have the time or money, or until you have kids, or until you have overcome your fear of death. The best time to start planning is before you think you need to. This book is a good start.
Do I Need a Will or a Trust
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