Posts tagged revocable living trusts
What are some disadvantages of revocable living trusts?

For most who own real estate in California or assets in excess of $150,000, a revocable living trust helps minimize the risk of probate. However, there are still some challenges associated with utilizng a revocable living trust. 

Startup Costs

If you don't own much in the way of assets, the cost of creating a revocable living trust may not be worth the benefit. For those with small estates, the California Statutory Will, which is free, may be all that is needed.

Re-titling of Assets

Many people who are tricked into the allure of cheap document preparation services to create their trust often don't take the crucial step of re-titling assets or updating beneficiary designations.

A trust is only effective if there are assets held within it. Because this step can take time, document preparation companies are often not in a position to advise and guide you through this process. Remember, a trust is totally useless to avoid probate if it does not hold title to your assets or if it is not named as a beneficiary in your beneficiary designations.

Court Supervision

Although the main benefit of revocable living trusts is probate avoidance, sometimes clients who anticipate disagreement among beneficiaries may wish to subject the estate to probate to ensure that there will be judicial supervision. This is very, very rare, but for clients who want this, use of a revocable living trust may be a disadvantage.

Lack of Family Protection Laws

Because a trust is not subject to probate, the family protection statues (e.g., probate homestead) are not applicable. Many clients, however, consider this a benefit, as they don't want their trust assets subject to these specific laws.

Creditor's Claims

In probate there's a 4-month period after "Letters" are issued in which creditors may bring a claim. After that time, claims are cut off. In contrast, a revocable living trust requires the trustee to affirmatively take steps to file, publish, and serve notice on possible creditors to start the time limit.

Although the list of disadvantages may seem extensive, for most clients, the benefits of a revocable living trust far outweigh the downsides. In fact, for many, the need for court supervision, family protection laws, and creditor claim limitations are more beneficial in theory, than in practice.

What is a Revocable Living Trust? (A Brief Overview)

One of the most common estate planning documents in California is the Revocable Living Trust. You can think of a Revocable Living Trust kind of like a container to hold your assets while you're alive. This container is governed by a set of specific instructions that you lay out in the document that creates the trust, and tells others how the assets inside the trust are to be used for your benefit while you're alive and how the assets are to be distributed after you pass away. Depending on your marital status, there will be different ways to create a trust.

Single Person

If you're single, or not married and not in a registered domestic partnership, you will most likely have a revocable living trust that holds all of your own assets. Also, any assets that use a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts will likely have the trust named as its primary beneficiary so that the proceeds from those assets can be distributed in accordance with the revocable living trust provisions.

Married Persons

If you're married, it is likely that you and your spouse will create a single joint revocable living trust that holds both of your assets--whether it is community property or the separate property of both spouses. Occasionally, couples will create 2 or more revocable living trusts--one to hold the couple's community property, one to hold one spouse's separate property, and perhaps one more to hold the other spouse's separate property. The specific combination will depend on factors such as:

  1. Whether and/or the amount of separate property that each spouse has.
  2. The value of the assets that the spouses' own overall.
  3. The similarity or disparity in how each spouse wants to distribute his or her assets.
  4. Other personal factors such as each spouse's belief in the other's ability to handle financial affairs.

Day-to-Day Life Remains the Same

So long as you (and your spouse, if you have a joint living trust) are alive and fully functioning, there's no practical change to how you handle your financial affairs once the trust is set up. Because revocable trusts can be amended, changed, or revoked by you, they do not provide any immediate benefit for tax or creditor purposes (though this is not necessarily the case after you pass away). If a trust is revocable and amendable, then:

  1. Transferring assets to the trust does not cause any adverse tax consequences.
  2. Income taxes as a result of rent, dividends, capital gains or losses are treated the same as it was prior to creating the trust. 
  3. The trust assets will be included as part of your estate.
  4. There is no reassessment of your real estate for real property taxes (a huge benefit for long-time residents in counties where the property tax bases tend to be much lower than the fair market values of the property, such as in Los Angeles County).

Schedule of Assets

In most trust documents, there's a separate schedule which lists all of the assets that you own and is supposed to be contained within the trust. This is helpful for at least a few purposes.

First, if you die and haven't otherwise kept a good record of the property that you own, this schedule can be useful to your successor Trustee, who can use the list to track down your assets.

Second, if you forgot to re-title those assets in the name of your trust, it could serve as the basis for a "Heggstad" petition, which is a special procedure to transfer those assets to your trust without the need to go through a full probate process.

So there you have it, a few basics of a revocable living trust. 


What is it like working with an estate planning lawyer? (Step 3)

After the first real meeting, the estate planning lawyer may have additional follow-up questions. But at this point, assuming you've made some key decisions, the lawyer should have enough data to begin researching any issues (if any) and drafting your estate planning documents. A typical estate plan in California consists of the following documents:

  1. Revocable Living Trust
  2. Pour-over Will
  3. Durable Power of Attorney (Financial Decisions)
  4. Advance Health Care Directive
  5. Assignment of Assets
  6. One or more real property deeds

Draft Documents

After an initial draft of the documents have been prepared, the estate planning lawyer will typically send them to you via e-mail or regular mail so that you can look them over and ask any questions you may have. Alternatively, you may wish to set up an appointment to go over each document with the guidance of your lawyer. This meeting doesn't need to be in person, and can be over the phone.


If during your review you notice things that you would like to change or things that don't accurately reflect your wishes, now is the time to tell the lawyer so that he or she may update the documents before you sign them. The estate planning lawyer may re-send you the updated documents to ensure that the content has been revised to your specifications.

The end result should be a set of draft documents that is ready for signing, witnessing and notarizing.