A major difference between a trust and a will is that a will goes into effect only after you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as you create it. A will is a document that directs who will receive your property at your death and it appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. By contrast, a trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death and afterwards.

A trust doesn’t replace a will, but works in conjuncture with a will as part of your estate plan. While wills often become public following their filing with the court, trusts typically remain private. Trusts avoid probate, so what the person has in his or her trust will commonly remain confidential.

Contrary to popular belief, in most jurisdictions, a will does not serve its purpose until your death and until after it is filed with and accepted by a court. Other legal documents, such as Power of Attorney or a living trust, serve you while you are alive.