Understanding Estate Planning in California: Wills vs. Trusts


Understanding Estate Planning in California: Wills vs. Trusts

When it comes to planning for the distribution of your assets and property after you’re gone, understanding the differences between wills and trusts is essential. In California, both serve as valuable estate planning tools, but they operate differently and offer distinct advantages. Let’s delve into the nuances of wills and trusts to help you make informed decisions about your estate planning needs in California.


A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets, the appointment of guardians for minor children, and designation of an executor to oversee the administration of your estate. Here are some key features of wills in California:

  1. Probate Process: In California, wills will almost always go through the probate process, which is a court-supervised procedure for validating the will, settling debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries. The probate process can be time-consuming, and costly, but offers the advantage of being court-supervised.

  2. Flexibility: Wills offer flexibility in terms of making changes or updates to your estate plan. You can revise your will at any time as long as you have the mental capacity to do so, either by executing a new will or adding a codicil (an amendment to the existing will).

  3. Public Record: Wills become part of the public record once they are submitted to probate court, which means that the terms of your will, as well as the identities of your beneficiaries, become accessible to the public.

  4. Cost of drafting: The cost of having a will is usually minimal and very reasonable. My office charges approximately $400.00 to $500.00 for a will package which includes a Will, Power of Attorney, and Healthcare Directive.


A trust is a legal arrangement where a trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of beneficiaries according to the terms specified in the trust document. Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable and offer several benefits over wills:

  1. Probate Avoidance: One of the primary advantages of trusts is that they bypass the probate process, allowing for the efficient transfer of assets to beneficiaries upon the settlor’s (the person who creates the trust) death. This can save time, and money, and maintain privacy since trust documents are not subject to public records.

  2. Asset Protection: Trusts can provide asset protection benefits by shielding assets from creditors, lawsuits, and potential challenges to the estate. Certain types of trusts, such as irrevocable trusts, offer stronger asset protection than wills. This can also protect against claims from the Department of Health Services.

  3. Incapacity Planning: Unlike wills, trusts can provide incapacity planning by allowing for the seamless management of assets in the event of the settlor’s incapacity. The designated successor trustee can step in to manage the trust assets without the need for court intervention.

Choosing the Right Option: The decision between a will and a trust ultimately depends on your individual circumstances, preferences, and estate planning goals. While wills offer simplicity and flexibility, trusts provide enhanced control, privacy, and probate avoidance benefits. Many individuals in California opt for a combination of both, utilizing a pour-over will to transfer any assets not already titled in the trust to the trust upon their death.

Cost of Drafting: Trusts are more expensive to draft than wills but offer superior advantages over Wills depending on your assets.


In California, wills and trusts are essential estate planning tools that serve different purposes and offer distinct benefits. Whether you choose a will, a trust, or a combination of both depends on your unique circumstances and objectives. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney such as RAXTER LAW, P.A. at (951) 226-5294 is crucial to ensure that your wishes are properly documented and your loved ones are provided for according to your wishes. With careful planning, you can achieve peace of mind knowing that your assets will be distributed in accordance with your wishes and in the most efficient manner possible.

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