Two estate planning documents working in tandem: A living trust and a pour-over will

November 03, 2023
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At the very least, your estate plan should include a legally valid will governing the disposition of assets upon your death. But comprehensive estate planning often goes much further. For instance, you may provide for transfers of assets to a living trust (also known as a revocable trust) to supplement your will. For many, the best part of using a living trust is that the trust assets don’t have to pass through probate.

You can take an additional step by creating a pour-over will. In a nutshell, a pour-over will specifies how assets you didn’t transfer to a living trust during your life will be transferred at death.

Complementary documents

As its name implies, any property that isn’t specifically mentioned in your will is “poured over” into your living trust after your death. The trustee then distributes the assets to the beneficiaries under the trust’s terms.

The main purpose of a pour-over will is to maximize the benefits of a living trust. But attorneys also tout the merits of using a single legal document — a living trust — as the sole guiding force for an estate plan.

To this end, a pour-over will serves as a conduit for any assets that aren’t already in the name of the trust or otherwise distributed. The assets will be distributed to the trust.

This setup offers the following benefits:

Convenience. It’s easier to have one document controlling the assets than it is to “mix and match.” With a pour-over will, it’s clear that everything goes to the trust, and then the trust document is used to determine who gets what.

Completeness. Generally, everyone maintains some assets outside of a living trust. A pour-over will addresses any items that have fallen through the cracks or that have been purposely omitted.

Privacy. In addition to the convenience of avoiding probate for the assets that are titled in the name of the trust, this type of setup helps to keep a measure of privacy that isn’t available when assets are passed directly through a regular will.

There is, however, one disadvantage to consider. As with any will, your executor must handle specific bequests included in the will, as well as the assets being transferred to the trust through the pour-over provision, before the trustee takes over. (Exceptions for pour-over wills may apply in certain states.) While this may take months to complete, property transferred directly to a living trust can be distributed within weeks of the testator’s death.

The role of trustee

After the executor transfers the assets to the trust, it’s up to the trustee to do the heavy lifting. The executor and trustee may be the same person and, in fact, they often are.

The responsibilities of a trustee are similar to those of an executor with one critical difference: they extend only to the trust assets. The trustee then adheres to the terms of the trust.

Account for all your assets

The benefits of using a living trust are many. Pairing it with a pour-over will may help wrangle any loose assets that you purposely (or inadvertently) didn’t transfer to the living trust. Your attorney can provide more information.

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