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What Is the Difference Between a Will and a Trust in California?

Posted on in Estate Planning

Bay Area estate planning attorney wills and trusts

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our way of life over this past year. Throughout the spring and summer, local and state governments issued stay-at-home orders in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. With more people spending time at home with their loved ones, they may have considered what would happen if they got seriously ill. Important factors to think about include who would make healthcare decisions for them if they became incapacitated or who would receive their personal property in the event of their death. 

Estate planning involves pre-planning or arranging for the management and disposal of an individual’s estate, which is important to make sure a person’s wishes are protected. You may have heard of a will or a trust before but are unsure of what issues they address. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of these documents, an experienced attorney can help you determine which one is appropriate for your situation. 

Authorization to Make Decision on Your Behalf

Although the terms are occasionally used together, a will and a trust are actually two separate legal documents that serve different purposes. It is crucial to understand the difference between the two so you can make an informed decision regarding which option best meets your needs.

A will provides directions on how to distribute your assets upon your death. It allows you to choose an executor while you are still of sound mind and body. The executor has the authority to pay off your debts, distribute your assets, and handle any relevant administrative duties.

A will also enables you to name a legal guardian to raise your children in the event you pass away before they turn 18. A guardian can oversee any assets that you leave to your minor children. A will takes effect immediately upon your death. 

A trust is a legal relationship where one person (trustee) holds the property on behalf of another (beneficiary). The person who creates the trust is called the trustor or grantor until he or she dies, at which time, a successor trustee takes over. Depending on the type of trust being used, the trustor can usually transfer real or personal property to the trust throughout his or her life. This includes monetary funds, real estate, stocks, bonds, businesses, personal keepsakes, and vehicles. A trust can go into effect as soon as it is drafted, which means your appointed trustee can begin distributing property according to the terms of the trust immediately. You could also choose to serve as the initial trustee, with a successor named to take your place upon your death.

It is important to note that a will and a trust differ in that a will goes through a probate process. The court oversees the administration of the will and makes sure it is valid. A trust does not need to go through probate, so the court does not have to be involved. Also, the trust is not available to the public so it remains private.

Contact a San Francisco Estate Planning Lawyer

Taking steps to prepare for the future can help alleviate problems down the road, such as disputes between family members in the event you pass away or become unable to make decisions. That is why it is crucial that you seek the guidance of a reputable Bay Area estate planning attorney. At the Law Office of Martin Alperen, we are well-versed in California laws and understand how important estate planning is to protect your wishes. Attorney Alperen has extensive experience in the government and private sectors, including a background in law enforcement and as a search and rescue team leader. Known as “The Rolling Attorney,” Attorney Alperen meets clients wherever they are. Call us today at 415-534-1200 to arrange a free consultation. 


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