A California living trust form is a legal document that controls the transfer of any property you have placed in the trust. When the grantor dies, the beneficiaries you’ve named in that document receive the trust property.
A California living trust allows you to do the same basic job as a will, with the added benefit of avoiding probate.
You can transfer all your property to your beneficiaries by living trust or, if appropriate, use a living trust to transfer only some assets, transferring the rest by other methods. Also, living trust forms normally are not made public at your death. Wills, on the other hand, become part of the public record during the probate process.
A California Revocable Living Trust Form
Living Trusts are called Revocable Living Trusts because you can revoke or change them at any time, for any reason, before you die (as long as you are mentally competent). You still effectively own all property you’ve transferred to your living trust in California and you can do anything you want with your property, including selling it, spending it, or giving it away.
Creating the Living Trust in California
To establish a living trust, you first complete the California living trust forms. In it, you name yourself as trustee to manage the trust property and a successor trustee (usually a family member or a close friend) to distribute the property when you die.
You also name the trust beneficiaries, who receive the property when you die. You then formally transfer property into the trust’s name. When you die, the successor trustee simply obtains the property from whomever holds it and transfers it to the named beneficiaries. No probate or other court proceeding is required.
A California Living Trust form will include documents that specify:
- The “trustee,” who has the authority to manage the trust property; you name yourself as the trustee
- The “successor trustee,” who turns the trust property over to the beneficiaries after your death
- The property that is subject to the trust
- The “beneficiary” or beneficiaries of the trust, who receive the trust property at your death, and
- Other terms of the trust, including the fact that you can amend or revoke it at any time.
A living trust can work as effectively for a couple as for a single person. And any couple, married or not, can use one livingtrust to handle both their shared and individually owned property.
Glossary of Living Trust Terms in California
Grantor: the person who sets up a living trust (that’s you) is called the grantor, trustor, or settlor. You can also set up a trust with your spouse; in that case, you are both grantors.
Estate: all the property you own at death, whether in your living trust or owned in some other form.
Funding the trust: the act of transferring property into the trust.
Trustee: the person who has power over the trust property.
Successor trustee: he person the grantor names to take over as trustee after the grantor’s death.
Beneficiaries: The people or organizations who get the trust property when a grantor dies. (While a grantor is alive, technically he or she is the beneficiary of the trust.)
Transferring Trust Property Into the Trustee’s Name
An essential step in making your California Living Trust Forms effective is to transfer ownership (title) of property to the trustee. If you don’t, your successor trustee won’t be able to transfer it to your beneficiaries.
Some paperwork is necessary to complete transfer of the trust property to the beneficiaries, such as preparing new ownership documents. Still, these matters can normally be handled in no more than a few weeks, without a lawyer. Once the trust property is legally received by the beneficiaries, the trust ceases to exist.
An Extra Step for California: Title Insurance
Normally, title insurance on real estate transfers automatically when you place that real estate in your living trust. However, there can be a problem with this in California. A California appellate court decision ruled that a specific title insurance policy was unenforceable because the real estate involved had been transferred to a living trust, a “voluntary transfer” not covered by the policy. As a result of that ruling, the California legislature passed a law mandating that a title insurance policy remain in force when the real estate it covers is transferred to a living trust. This law is effective as of May 18, 2014. But the law is not retroactive. This means that if you own California real estate with a title policy issued before May 18, 2014 and you intend to transfer that real estate to your living trust, you should ask your title company whether you need it to give you an “endorsement” agreeing that the policy will remain in force. Obtaining an endorsement will require a bit of paperwork, and possibly a fee of around $100.
Transferring Property Without Title to a California Living Trust
Household items and many other types of property may not have a title, however you can still transfer them to the trust.
Household belongings, furniture, clothing, jewelry, furs, tools, most farm equipment, antiques, electronic and computer equipment, works of art, bearer bonds, cash, precious metals, and collectibles.
In California you transfer these items to the trust simply by listing them on a trust schedule. In addition, you can use a “Notice of Assignment” form, a simple document that states that the property listed on it has been transferred to the trustee’s name. In New York, state law requires that you use such a separate document.
Transferring Property With Ownership (Title Document) to a California Living Trust
All items of trust property that have ownership documents (title papers) must be registered in the trustee’s name.
Your living trust won’t affect any property with an ownership document that is not re-registered in the trustee’s name.
Example of property with title documents that must be transferred includes:
- real estate, including condominiums and cooperatives
- bank accounts
- stocks and stock accounts
- most bonds, including U.S. government securities
- corporations, limited partnerships, and partnerships
- money market accounts
- mutual funds
- safe deposit boxes, and
- vehicles, including cars, most boats, motor homes, and planes.
What happens with the Living Trust If You Move From California to Another State
Your living trust remains legal and valid if you move to a different state after establishing it. Revocable living trusts are valid and used in every state.
However, if you’re married, and you move from a community property state to a common law state or vice versa, you may want to check the marital property ownership laws of your new state to make sure that the property you believe is yours really is.
Creating a Valid Living Trust by Yourself
Some people have a lawyer prepare their living trust. If your estate plan calls for combining a living trust with sophisticated ongoing trusts designed to minimize taxes, it’s likely you’ll need a lawyer to prepare these trusts for you. But other people can safely complete the California living trust form themselves or with aid of online legal preparation services. In fact, even if you fully intend to pay a lawyer to draft documents, it’s still a good idea to educate yourself about living trusts and even to prepare a draft trust.