What is a General Assignment form?

A General Assignment form is usually an all-encompassing document intended to transfer the entirety of one's assets to his or her trust. Most, if not all, estate planning lawyers will include some form of this document in the estate planning documents prepared for a client.

The document may be also used as the basis of a so-called "Heggstad" petition--a method of transferring real property to a trust without the need for a full probate administration. In preparing a General Assignment form, it is important to exclude assets that are not supposed to be covered by it, for example, property with survivorship benefits or those passing by virtue of a beneficiary designation.

What is a Heggstad petition?

In Estate of Heggstad (16 CA4th 943), the court held that a written declaration of trust by the owner of real property indicating an intent to include the property in the trust was sufficient to fund the property into the trust. This can be extremely helpful to your beneficiaries after you pass away if for some reason your real property got taken out of your trust prior to your death.

Despite the fact that a full probate administration may be avoided by use of a so-called "Heggstad" petition, title companies require a court order confirming that title is properly held by the decedent's trust. Therefore, it is still important that the proper steps be taken to transfer one's real property to his or her trust to ensure an efficient and effective trust administration process.

Since the Heggstad opinion by the court, California courts have continued to honor a Trustor's intention to transfer real property to his or her revocable living trust. 

How do I add my bank account to my trust?

Adding a bank account to a trust is a fairly routine procedure. Most banks will require a Trustor to open a new bank account in the name of the trust and thereafter transfer the assets of the non-trust bank account into the new trust bank account. Banks will typically require either a copy of your trust document or a "certification of trust" before creating a trust bank account. Your estate planning lawyer can create the certification of trust for you to sign; however, many banks have, and may require, their own forms to be used.

The appropriate way to title a trust bank account is as follows:

[Name] as Trustee of the [Name of the Trust] dated [Date of Trust Execution]

Trust bank accounts generally should not have signers who are not Trustees of the Trust, and also should not have a beneficiary designation.

Many people wish to avoid letting others know of the existence of their trust. Luckily, most banks allow checks to be printed in the Trustor's individual name  rather than the name of his or her trust. 

Occasionally clients will have bank accounts that have many auto-deposits and auto-debits for things like paychecks and bills. In this situation, the hassle of creating a trust account and re-instating the auto-deposits and auto-debits may take too much time. Therefore, it may be acceptable to retain the bank account in the owner's name individually, with the caveat that the balance should be kept below the threshold necessary to allow his successor Trustee or beneficiary to claim the account using a small estate affidavit (more on this in another post).

If you have a revocable living trust, make sure that you've funded it properly so that your family can avoid the need to probate your estate after you pass away. 

Can a lawyer represent Co-Trustees of a trust?

There's no specific prohibition on a lawyer representing Co-Trustees of a Trust. That being said, representing co-trustees can create ethical issues for the lawyer.

For example, if one of the trustees had prior dealings with the lawyer, or if one of the trustees shares confidential information that he or she does not want to share with the other trustees, or if a trustee needs to be shielded from liability from the actions taken by the other trustees, the lawyer may be placed in a situation where he is unable to represent all of the co-trustees fairly. 

As a result, a lawyer must inform the co-trustees of the possibility of conflicts, and must also advise the trustees that should an actual conflict arise, the trustees will need to seek a new lawyer or a lawyer to deal with the actual conflict. Often, making the trustees aware of the lawyer's position at the outset helps to set the expectation that the co-trustees are to work in a cooperative manner to carry out the common goal of administering the trust effectively.