Trusts Vs. Last Wills in California

By Joseph Scrofano

Probating a will can be a long and expensive process depending on the size and complexity of the estate. The cost of probate gets paid directly from the estate, and can deplete some of the estate’s resources and assets. Accordingly, many people choose to use a trust as a legal mechanism to transfer their assets upon death. California state laws regulate both trusts and wills, which have several key differences.


Different terms are used for wills and trusts. In the context of a will, the person who owns the estate and drafts a will is the “testator.” The person who drafts a trust is a “settlor.” In a will, the testator usually designates an “executor” to administer the estate upon the testator’s death. In a trust, the settlor designates herself as the “trustee” to maintain control over her assets while she is alive. The settlor also appoints a “successor trustee” who is responsible for transferring the estate’s assets according to the trust’s directives upon the incapacitation or death of the settlor. In either context, once the estate owner dies, she is called the “decedent.”


The major difference in a trust versus a will is that a trust does not have to go through probate. Probate can be time consuming and expensive. In addition, the court oversees the executor to ensure that he follows all California state laws. With a trust, probate is not required, which can save time and money. The successor trustee simply has to administer the trust pursuant to the trust’s instructions, all without court supervision.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan


Another major difference between California trusts and wills is privacy. Upon filing for probate, a will becomes a public record in the state. That means all documents filed before the court can be accessed by the public. With a trust, the estate’s assets and how these assets are distributed do not become public, which is a major benefit for those who value privacy.

Small Estate

California is one of the many states that have a simplified probate process for small estates. Estates that meet certain statutory requirements -- including a value less than $100,000 -- can avoid probate even where the vehicle for transferring assets is a will, not a trust. This process includes beneficiaries submitting affidavits to the court, and only works if no conflict exists. If the beneficiaries have a conflict in the administration of the estate, it may go to regular probate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Trusts & Last Wills in the State of Oklahoma



Related articles

What Is Diversion of Property From a Trust?

Diversion of trust property is a legal term used to describe the misapplication or misuse of trust property. Not only does diversion of trust property violate the terms of the trust itself, but it's often a criminal act. A trust agreement forms a contract between the person who sets up the trust in the first place, the trustee and the beneficiary. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of both the trust and its beneficiary.

Blind Trust Vs. Revocable Trust

A trust is a legal structure used to safeguard assets. Revocable trusts and blind trusts serve distinctly different functions. Trust law is very state-specific; those with questions about setting up a particular trust should enlist a local legal professional or an online drafting service.

How Does a Living Trust Protect Assets?

Creating a trust to holds assets can help the grantor while he is alive and continue to serve him after his death. A living trust is created during the grantor's lifetime. It transfers title (ownership) of the grantor's property into the trust to be managed by a trustee for the benefit of a designated beneficiary. There are different types of living trusts and each can protect assets in a different way -- or not at all.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Florida Last Wills Vs. Trusts

Planning for your eventual demise can help you protect your assets and ensure their smooth transfer of your heirs. ...

What Is The Difference Between a Living Trust and a Last Will in North Carolina

There are two types of legal instruments commonly used for individuals to set the terms of the distribution of their ...

Can a Trustee Be a Beneficiary in Illinois?

Trusts are a popular method for transferring property to others in Illinois. Its chief advantage is that all the assets ...

Difference Between a Last Will and a Revocable Trust

Two are two main ways for you to set the terms for how you want your estate distributed upon your death. A last will is ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED