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Why do many Californians have revocable living trusts?

Many people think that they have no need for a trust in their estate plan unless they have millions of dollars in assets to pass on to their heirs and other beneficiaries. In fact, you can set up a revocable living trust even if your assets total far less than that. There are many good reasons for doing so.

One big advantage of a living trust is that it doesn't have to go through probate. Here in California where estates of $150,000 or more often must be handled in probate court, placing your assets in a revocable living trust that you manage while you're alive can save your loved ones an expensive, complicated process after you're gone. By avoiding probate, which is a public process, you also protect your privacy and that of your heirs and beneficiaries.

Your attorney can help you determine which assets it's wise to place in a living trust -- such as your home and bank accounts, for example. It's typically unnecessary, however, to include accounts like 401(k)s that go directly to the named beneficiaries.

Having a living trust doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't have a will. Your attorney may recommend what's called a "pour-over" will for assets that are not included in the trust -- perhaps accidentally left out. Your estate plan may also include documents to designate powers of attorney for people whom you want to handle health care and financial decisions for you if you're unable to do so.

Everyone's situation is different. That's why it's important to discuss yours with an experienced estate planning attorney who can recommend the best method for ensuring that your wishes are carried out after you're gone and minimizing the time, expense and stress of handling your estate for your loved ones.

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