Don’t stop with a will when you really need a trust

California residents sometimes consider their estate plans to be complete after writing a will and issuing an advanced directive. But, in reality, that is often only the visible tip of a very large iceberg.

How can you tell whether you need to take a deeper dive into the realm of estate planning? Since everyone’s circumstances are different, there is no stock answer to this question.

Seek professional guidance and advice

Both your financial adviser and a California estate planning attorney can be an excellent source of information for those with questions. They can help you sort through problems like some mentioned below.

Should I fund a revocable living trust?

A major benefit of revocable living trusts is that the creators can revoke the trusts for any reason as long as they are mentally competent and alive.

How does a will differ from a living trust?

While both deal with the same matters, i.e., the disposition of your estate, trusts spare your beneficiaries from going through the often lengthy probate process. They also provide more privacy than wills as they will not become part of the public record and available to be perused by anyone with the inclination.

If you have few assets, a will may, indeed, be sufficient for your purposes. But if you have many complex assets, generally a trust is far more useful.

Who should I appoint as trustee?

To qualify as a trustee, the individual must only be both competent and an adult. With revocable living trusts, some people choose to appoint themselves and their spouse as co-trustees.

Successor trustees can also be named. You may appoint a child or an adult grandchild. But you should feel sure that the assets will be well-managed by whomever you appoint. To that end, some trust creators choose to appoint professional fiduciaries as successor trustees. This individual could be an employee of the trust department of your bank, a private fiduciary or a professional trust company.

Do I have to fund the trust immediately?

No. You will need to at least deposit a token sum of $1 to create the trust, but trusts can be funded upon the death of the creator if that is your choice.

I’m still confused. What should I do?

Learn as much as you can about the California statutes that govern estate planning options and trusts. Then, present any remaining questions to a San Jose estate planning attorney who can help you sort out any confusion that might remain.