Signing Living Trust to Avoid Probate

Making a will is often the core part of estate planning, but it is not the only option. There are other choices that might be better suited to your needs and preferences. This may include your desire to transfer wealth to intended beneficiaries without the expense, delay and potential complications of probate. A living trust can be a useful tool for achieving that goal.

Probate is the court process for distributing a decedent’s estate to the people entitled to share in it. If you have executed a will, it must go through probate in order for it to have legal effect. The will must be authenticated to ensure its validity. Then an executor is appointed, who must comply with multiple rules and restrictions in managing and distributing your estate. In California, probate can take between nine and 18 months. Additionally, if contests to the will are raised or if other significant issues arise, probate can take over two years to complete.

A living trust is a way you can structure your estate to avoid probate. Also known as a revocable trust, it is a device for transferring property to named people or entities upon designated conditions. Any assets that you would include in a will — including real estate, money and investments — can be included in the trust. During your lifetime, you can serve as the trustee, which means you will still have access to and use of the assets. You can make changes to the trust as you see fit.

As part of setting up the trust, you will name a successor trustee, who upon your death or other triggering event will take control of the assets and distribute them according to the trust’s terms. This is done privately and usually without delay. There is no probate or other court process involved unless the trust or its administration by the trustee is challenged in a lawsuit, which is rare.

However, a living trust is not necessarily a simple venture. It is important that your trust is properly structured and managed. Even though you will name yourself as trustee, you will likely need guidance from a an investment advisor or accountant in making investments that preserve and enhance the trust’s value. Choosing a successor trustee and crafting the instructions they must follow also require careful consideration. An experienced California estate planning attorney will be able to create a living trust that meets all legal requirements and that is best suited to your present and future expectations.

At Penrose Chun & Gorman LLP, we advise people throughout Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara Counties on estate planning strategies, including the establishment of living trusts. To learn more about how we can assist you, call us at 831-515-3344 or contact us online.

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