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Should You Create a Trust if You Already Have a Will?

If you have taken the time to create a will, you are on the right path toward ensuring that your estate is handled as you desire after your death. However, you should not stop there. In California, it is highly recommended that you create a trust, a flexible tool that gives you greater control over your estate planning. In fact, California courts prefer people to use trusts over wills. Both instruments are important, however, as they can work together to give effect to your final wishes.

Many types of trusts are available, but the most simple and easiest to manage is the revocable living trust (RLT). A living trust operates while the person who creates it — known as the grantor — is still alive. It is revocable if the grantor reserves the right to make changes to the trust during his or her lifetime. Some of the RLT’s best features include:

  • You (the grantor) retain control of the property as the trustee while you are alive.
  • You can add assets to your RLT by simply writing them in yourself and you can remove assets from the RLT by crossing them off. There is no need for witnessing these changes, unlike changing a will, which must be witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries of the will.
  • Upon your death, property is managed by a successor trustee (whom you have chosen) and distributed to your beneficiaries according to your instructions.

A major advantage an RLT has over a will is that your family can avoid the time and expense of probate, a lengthy process that can easily take a year or more and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Every dollar spent in probate is a dollar that your family doesn’t get to keep.

Placing most of your assets in an RLT reduces the size of your remaining estate, which may qualify it for a fast-track, low-cost probate process. In California, simplified probate applies to:

  • Estates whose total value is less than $150,000; or
  • Real estate worth less than $50,000.

Also, you can keep parcels of real estate out of probate by using a transfer-on-death deed, which names a beneficiary who takes ownership immediately when you pass.

Once you create a living trust, your will then serves as a backup plan. Let’s say you buy a piece of property after creating your living trust and you do not add it to the trust before you die. In that situation, the property will pass under your will’s residuary clause, which directs what happens to any property that hasn’t been included in your trust or otherwise transferred.

With offices in Sacramento and Roseville, The Sterling Law Group helps central California clients build effective estate plans. If you have questions about living trusts, wills or any other issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our attorneys. Call 916-790-9202 or contact us online anytime.

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  • Roseville Office
    300 Harding Boulevard
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    Roseville, California 95678
    Phone: 916-790-0852
    Fax: 916-760-2701
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    Sacramento, California 95814
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