Revocable Living Trust in California Estate Planning

Revocable Living Trust in California Estate Planning

A revocable living trust, also known as a revocable trust or inter vivos trust, is an essential component of an estate plan for California residents. This type of trust allows you to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust during your lifetime, retain control over those assets as the trustee, and ensure that your assets avoid probate upon your death.

Understanding the Flexibility of a Revocable Living Trust

One of the significant advantages of a revocable living trust is its flexibility. Unlike an irrevocable trust, a revocable living trust can be changed or terminated at any time, giving you complete control over your estate. This flexibility is particularly beneficial because it allows you to adjust the terms of the trust as your personal and financial circumstances evolve. However, it’s important to note that upon your death or incapacity, the terms of the trust become irrevocable, meaning they can no longer be altered.

Combining a Revocable Trust with a Last Will and Testament

A revocable living trust is often used in conjunction with a last will and testament. While the trust manages and distributes assets placed within it, the will serves to control any assets not included in the trust. This combination ensures that all your assets are covered and provides a comprehensive estate plan.

Do You Need a Living Trust in California?

Deciding whether you need a living trust in California depends on your individual circumstances and estate planning goals. Here are some compelling reasons why a revocable living trust may be appropriate for you:

1. Avoiding Probate

One of the most significant advantages of a revocable living trust is that assets transferred to the trust do not pass through probate. Probate can be a lengthy and expensive process, with fees in California ranging from 4% to 7% of the estate’s value. By avoiding probate, a revocable living trust can save time, money, and help maintain your privacy.

2. Avoiding Conservatorship

If you become incapacitated, a living trust allows your successor trustee to manage your financial affairs and assets without court supervision, thus avoiding the need for a court-appointed conservator. This ensures that your affairs are handled efficiently and according to your wishes.

3. Controlling Assets After Death

A revocable living trust includes instructions for distributing your assets upon your death, which can help prevent disputes among beneficiaries. This control ensures that your assets are distributed exactly as you intended.

4. Maintaining Privacy

Unlike probate, a living trust enables the transfer of assets privately upon death. The terms of your trust remain confidential, which can protect your beneficiaries’ privacy and prevent potential disputes or challenges from the public.

5. Managing Out-of-State Real Estate

If you own real estate outside of California, a living trust can help avoid multiple probate proceedings in different states. This can simplify the administration of your estate and reduce legal costs.

When a Living Trust May Not Be Necessary

Despite the benefits, a living trust may not be necessary for everyone. For example, if your estate is under California’s $166,250 probate threshold, a living trust might not be needed. Additionally, if your assets are primarily non-probate assets, such as life insurance and retirement accounts with appropriately named beneficiaries, a living trust may offer limited additional benefits.

Seeking Professional Guidance

Given the complexities involved in estate planning, it is advisable to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. They can provide personalized advice and help determine whether a living trust is suitable for your specific circumstances.

Choosing a Trustee: Ensuring the Right Direction for Your Estate

One of the most critical decisions when creating a living trust is choosing a competent trustee. Here are some tips for selecting the right trustee:

1. Naming Yourself as the Initial Trustee

By naming yourself as the initial trustee, you maintain control over your assets during your lifetime. This allows you to manage and benefit from your assets while you are able.

2. Selecting a Responsible Successor Trustee

It’s essential to choose a responsible successor trustee who will manage the trust when you can no longer serve due to death, illness, or incapacity. This could be a spouse, adult child, relative, friend, trust company, or bank trust department. Consider the person’s ability to handle financial matters, their reliability, and their understanding of your wishes.

3. Considering Co-Trustees

In some cases, naming co-trustees to serve together can provide checks and balances. This can be particularly useful in ensuring that the trust is managed fairly and that decisions are made in the best interest of the beneficiaries.


A revocable living trust can be a vital tool in estate planning for California residents, offering flexibility, control, and privacy while avoiding probate and conservatorship. By understanding the benefits and carefully selecting a trustee, you can ensure that your estate is managed according to your wishes and provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney can further help tailor your estate plan to meet your specific needs and goals.

California estate planning