California Living Trust vs. Last Will

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

California Living Trust vs. Last Will

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

California residents who want to plan for how their assets will be managed and distributed after their deaths can use revocable living trusts, wills, or both. There are some key differences between trusts and wills, and understanding those nuances may help you determine which option best meets your needs.

Man and child looking at golden gate bridge together

Wills in California

Wills serve two main purposes for Californians. First, they identify how and to whom probate assets should be distributed after your death. Generally speaking, probate assets are assets that pass through your will, including assets you own in your name alone, without joint owners or designated beneficiaries.

Your will also identifies who will serve as your executor. This is the person who is responsible for handling administrative matters after you die, settling your estate in accordance with your wishes and with California law.

Parents of minor children can also nominate a guardian to have physical custody of their children, in the event the parents die prematurely.

California Living (Revocable) Trusts

Some people choose to establish revocable living trusts instead of using wills. Where wills simply define how your assets will be transferred after you die, trusts can hold assets during your lifetime. Properly established and funded California living trusts can make the process of administering your estate simpler and can avoid the need for lengthy or costly probate court proceedings.

Living trusts can also provide a way for Californians to manage from beyond the grave, allowing for assets to be managed in trust for beneficiaries for years or even decades after your death. Trusts can also allow you to designate someone to manage your trust assets for you should you become incapacitated.

When Both a Trust and a Will May Make Sense

For some Californians, the best option may be to use both living trusts and wills in their estate plans.

Parents of minor children might use wills to designate who should have guardianship of their children while using living trusts to dictate how their real estate and other assets should be managed and distributed. In such cases, the wills may be referred to as “pour-over" wills.

Instead of naming specific people or charitable organizations to inherit assets, pour-over wills name the revocable living trust as the heir. This strategy is designed to ensure that any assets not inside the trust will still be managed according to your wishes.

Which Estate-Planning Tools Are Right for You?

Whether an estate-planning strategy is right for your particular situation depends on a number of factors, including the size of your estate, the types of assets you own, and your wishes and goals for how assets should be transferred to your designated heirs.

While trusts make sense for many people, they are not the best solution for every situation. The California Attorney General's office cautions people to be wary of unscrupulous “living trust mills" that prey on seniors and others, selling expensive financial and estate-planning products they don't actually need.

When in doubt, consult with a California-licensed estate-planning attorney to understand whether a living trust, a will, or a combination of both would make the most sense for you.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.