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Revocable Living Trusts in California

The probate process is used to determine what to do with a person's property after they pass unless there is another method already in place, which is where a trust comes into play. A trust is a common estate planning tool used to avoid having to go through probate. 

However, contrary to popular belief, avoiding probate does not avoid estate taxes, and estate taxes must be paid just as they would when someone has a will. This article offers general information about one specific type of trust used fairly often in California, the revocable living trust.

The Purpose of a Revocable Living Trust

The basic purpose of a living trust is to allow someone, often a loved one such as a surviving spouse or adult children to maintain control of their property while making sure the property is managed according to their wishes upon death or incapacity. Revocable living trusts are used by thousands of people in California to avoid having their estates go through the probate process. 

In California, estates with a market value over $150,000 may be subject to the full probate process, and a simplified process is available for estates worth less than $150,000.

California Revocable Living Trusts Overview

The following table outlines the specifics of California's trusts laws.

Code Section

California Probate Code

Types of Trusts

Basic trust: relationship between three roles (can be held by same person)

  1. grantor- gives property to the trustee to manage for benefit of beneficiary
  2. beneficiary- entitled to the benefit of the property
  3. trustee- receives property from the grantor and manages it for beneficiary
Testamentary trust: type of trust made in a will

How the Trust Is Funded


  • A living trust is a type of trust that operates when the grantor is still alive. If the grantor wants the right to change the terms of the trust or end the trust, we call the trust a revocable trust.
  • The living trust can be created with a legal document that includes instructions about who you want to leave your assets to (subsequent beneficiaries), in addition to who will manage your assets and how they will be managed if you become unable to manage them (alternate trustees). 
  • The trust document will contain instructions on how to manage the property after you (the initial trustee) pass.

Given the nature of the trust relationship, every trust must manage specific property that is listed in the trust document. When you establish a living trust, the next step will involve transferring assets into the trust, such as bank accounts, real estate, and stocks. After the transfer, these assets still remain in your control, because you are the original trustee.

What Happens after Death

  • When you die, your co-trustee or successor trustee will carry out the instructions set forth in your trust, distributing and managing your assets for the named beneficiaries.
  • The beneficiaries of the living trust can be people and/or organizations, such as family members, friends, religious organizations, and educational institutions.
  • The assets held in your living trust will be subject to federal and state taxation.
Remember, your attorney can add provisions in your living trust to help reduce and possibly even eliminate taxes, depending on the size of your estate. If your primary concern is to avoid burdensome federal estate taxes, you may want to consider alternative options such as an irrevocable trust.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.


A revocable living trust can be a valuable planning tool to help you maintain control over your assets during your lifetime and at death. A living trust may be used as a substitute for a will, allowing flexibility for major life changes such as marriage, divorce, and children. A living trust can also help you reduce or eliminate probate and administrative expenses when your estate is settled. By creating a living trust, an experienced attorney may be able to lower estate costs and avoid unnecessary taxation at the federal and state levels.

Get Legal Help with Your Questions About Revocable Trusts in California

Are you interested in learning more about revocable living trusts and how they can help you skip the probate process? Then, you should contact a skilled trusts lawyer near you. Not only can a lawyer answer any questions you may have, he or she can also you help you set up or change your revocable living trust.

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