A will gives instructions about distributing your property after death, and living trusts are typically revocable—they can be changed along the way, and they are "living" because they're created while you're alive. A will is only effective when you die; a trust takes effect as soon as you create it. To find out more about these estate planning documents, talk with an experienced estate planning attorney.
There is no simple estate—everybody has complexity, says The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard article, "Wills, trusts, big decisions." The basic questions are whether: (i) you're married; (ii) you have children, or children from multiple marriages or step-children; and (iii) there's real estate you own outside of the state. The larger the estate, the more questions there will be about how best to distribute the assets.
If it is a one-time married family, an estate planning attorney can provide for financial assets to go straight to the children without probate administration in many cases. But things can be more complicated with blended families. There may be one spouse with children by a prior marriage and children from a subsequent marriage. If that is the case, then you may want to be sure that the children by the first marriage will be treated the same when the surviving spouse will have control of all of the assets.
Frequently this can be avoided, starting with a discussion to learn if the people are willing to carry out an equitable division among the various "blended" children. If it doesn't look like they will, then you may need to create a trust with someone other than the surviving spouse as trustee. That will make certain that assets you intend go to the children from your first marriage.
A minimum set of documents that every retiree should have includes a will, a power of attorney and medical documents such as an advanced directive. A durable power of attorney permits the person you choose to deal with your finances. A health care directive is a living will, which is a written document of a person's wishes.
Another scenario is if one spouse becomes mentally disabled. A conservatorship is where a judge appoints a responsible person to care for another adult who can't manage his or her own care or finances. A trust can be a way to avoid court intervention. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about these important documents.
Reference: The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard (March 23, 2016) "Wills, trusts, big decisions"