How Do Living Trusts Work in California?

How Do Living Trusts Work in California?

A living trust, also known as an inter vivos trust or revocable trust, is one of the best ways for people and families to protect their assets, take care of their loved ones, and make the transfer of wealth easier. 

18% of Americans utilize living trusts, compared to 75% who use wills. Unlike a will, which becomes operative only after the testator’s death and typically necessitates probate, a living trust operates immediately. You should carefully consider the pros and cons of revocable living trusts before determining if they are the best estate planning instrument for you. 

Let’s focus on the fundamentals of living trusts, along with their main features, advantages, and the particular legal factors that influence their efficacy in California.

Definition of Living Trusts

Living trusts are formal agreements wherein an individual (referred to as the grantor or settlor) gives ownership of their assets to a trust while they are still alive. As long as they are mentally competent, the grantor usually keeps control of the trust and has the authority to alter its conditions or cancel it completely. The distribution and management of the assets both during and after the grantor’s life are outlined in the trust agreement.

The grantor typically designates themselves as the first trustee and beneficiary of a living trust, maintaining complete control and benefit over the assets for the duration of their lives. A successor trustee, usually chosen by the grantor, takes over the trust and administers its assets in accordance with the instructions specified in the trust instrument upon the grantor’s passing away or becoming incapacitated. Following that, the successor trustee assigns the trust’s assets to the chosen beneficiaries in accordance with the grantor’s wishes.

This financial tool is commonly used as a tool for estate planning to achieve various objectives but one of the disadvantages of revocable living trusts is that they can be more expensive to set up initially but can avoid the cost and time of probate and its extending expenses, such as court filing fees and legal fees. 

Benefits of Living Trusts

Living trusts are useful estate planning instruments for both individuals and families because of their many advantages. The following are the main advantages of living trusts:

  1. Privacy. Unlike a will, a living trust doesn’t go through probate, which is a public court process. This means that the details of your assets, debts, and beneficiaries remain private.
  2. Avoiding Probate: One big benefit of having a living trust is that it can avoid probate, which is the legal procedure used to certify a will. Time and money are often saved when assets are kept in a trust and transferred to beneficiaries without going through probate.
  3. Quicker distribution of assets to beneficiaries. Since the trust is effective immediately upon creation, there’s no need to wait for the lengthy probate process to conclude. This can provide much-needed financial support to your loved ones immediately.
  4. Protection: By offering a structured approach to managing and distributing assets on behalf of beneficiaries, such as minor children or people with special needs, trusts can provide protection for those who benefit from them. They can also shield property from litigation or creditors.
  5. Asset Management: During your lifetime and after your passing, assets can be managed with the help of a living trust. This is especially helpful since the successor trustee can take over and administer the trust in your place if you become incapable of managing your affairs or incapacitated.

Living trusts are a flexible and useful estate planning tool that may be used to manage and distribute assets while offering a number of advantages, such as asset management, privacy, avoidance of probate, and beneficiary protection.

Creating a Living Trust

When setting up a living trust, the first step is to carefully select a trustee to manage your assets. The trustee plays an important role in managing the trust and carrying out your wishes as outlined in the trust document. Choose someone who is reliable, trustworthy, and capable of handling financial matters responsibly.

You’ll need to decide what type of living trust best suits your needs. In California, you can opt for a revocable living trust, which allows you to make changes or revoke the trust during your lifetime, or an irrevocable living trust, which typically can’t be altered once established. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages; understand the implications of your choice.

After selecting a trustee and determining the type of living trust, you’ll need to draft a trust document outlining the terms and conditions of the trust. This document should clearly specify how your assets should be managed and distributed both during your lifetime and after your passing. 

Funding a Living Trust

When funding your living trust, you must transfer assets like real estate, bank accounts, investments, and personal property into the trust’s name. Real estate should have its title transferred to the trust; bank accounts and investments need to be re-registered under the trust’s name. Personal property such as vehicles, jewelry, and artwork should also be retitled in the trust’s name.

Update beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and life insurance policies to align with your living trust.

For assets like furniture or clothing, a simple memorandum listing these items and their intended recipients within the trust can suffice. Any assets left out of the trust may need to go through probate, so you must make sure all significant assets are properly funded into your living trust to avoid probate delays.

Managing a Living Trust

Reviewing your trust annually or after significant life events such as marriages, divorces, births, or deaths can help you keep it up to date.

Staying organized by keeping all trust-related documents in one secure place simplifies management. Inform your chosen successor trustee of their role and responsibilities to guarantee a smooth transition when the time comes. Regular communication with your trustee and beneficiaries can also prevent misunderstandings and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Monitoring any changes in state laws that may affect your trust and seeking legal advice when needed are further steps in effectively managing your living trust. By actively managing and updating your living trust, you can secure that your wishes are carried out as intended.


Now that you understand how living trusts work in California, you can see the many benefits they offer for estate planning. By creating and properly funding a living trust, you can guarantee your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes. Take control of your financial future and protect your loved ones by considering a living trust as part of your overall estate plan.

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