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Understanding Trust Administration vs. Probate Process in California: A Brief Comparison

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Firm News

Introduction: Navigating through the legal procedures after the passing of a loved one can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to managing their estate. In California, two primary avenues for estate settlement are trust administration and probate. Both serve the purpose of distributing assets, but they differ significantly in process, timeline, costs, and privacy. Understanding the distinctions between the two can help individuals make informed decisions about estate planning. In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies of trust administration and probate processes in California, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Trust Administration: Trust administration involves the management and distribution of assets held within a trust after the Settlor’s (creator’s) passing. Here’s how it works:

  1. Initiation: Trust administration typically begins when the Settlor passes away. The successor trustee, appointed by the Settlor, assumes control over the trust assets.
  2. Asset Management: The successor trustee is responsible for managing the trust assets according to the terms outlined in the trust document. This may include paying bills, managing investments, and ensuring the proper distribution of assets to beneficiaries. The Trustee collects the assets and obtains date of death appraisals as needed to establish a basis.
  3. Distribution: Once all debts, taxes, and expenses are settled, the successor trustee distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the trust’s instructions.
  4. Timeline: Trust administration can be completed relatively quickly, often within a few months, as it does not require court involvement.
  5. Privacy: One significant advantage of trust administration is privacy. Since it doesn’t involve court proceedings, the details of the estate remain confidential.

Probate Process: Probate is a court-supervised process of administering the estate of a deceased person. Here’s an overview of how it works:

  1. Initiation: Probate begins when someone files a petition with the probate court to open the estate. If the deceased had a valid will, the court will generally appoint the person named as executor in the will to administer the estate. If there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator.
  2. Asset Inventory: The executor or administrator compiles an inventory of the deceased person’s assets, which may include real estate, bank accounts, investments, and personal property. The assets are either appraised by the administrator or the court appointed probate referee depending on the type of asset involved.
  3. Creditor Notification: Creditors are notified of the death, and they have a certain period to file claims against the estate for any outstanding debts.
  4. Settlement: After paying debts, taxes, and administrative expenses, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or California’s intestate succession laws if there is no will. However, this does not take place until a petition for final account and report is filed with the court. Once the matter is heard and the court enters its order, then the administrator or executor can distribute the assets to the beneficiaries or heirs.
  5. Timeline: Probate proceedings can be lengthy, often taking a year or more to complete, depending on the complexity of the estate and any disputes that arise.
  6. Privacy: Unlike trust administration, probate is a public process. Court documents, including the will and inventory of assets, are available for public inspection.

Comparison: Now, let’s compare and contrast trust administration and the probate process in California:

  1. Cost: Probate can be more expensive than trust administration due to court fees, attorney fees, and other administrative costs. Trust administration typically incurs fewer expenses since it doesn’t involve court proceedings. Further, the probate code outlines the fees that the attorney and administrator are authorized to receive.
  2. Timeline: Trust administration is generally faster than probate, allowing beneficiaries to receive their inheritances more quickly.
  3. Privacy: Trust administration offers greater privacy since it doesn’t involve court proceedings, whereas probate is a public process, exposing the estate details to public scrutiny.
  4. Court Involvement: Trust administration is typically handled outside of court, while probate requires court oversight throughout the process.
  5. Complexity: Probate can be more complex, especially if there are disputes among beneficiaries or challenges to the validity of the will. Trust administration tends to be more straightforward, especially if the trust document is well-drafted and unambiguous.

Conclusion: In California, both trust administration and probate serve as mechanisms for settling estates, but they differ significantly in process, timeline, costs, and privacy. Trust administration offers a faster, more private, and often less expensive way to distribute assets, while probate provides court oversight and resolution of disputes. Understanding the distinctions between the two processes can help individuals make informed decisions about estate planning and ensure their wishes are carried out efficiently and effectively. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney can provide valuable guidance in navigating these complex legal procedures.

Contact Mauriah Conway, Esq. to assist you with all of your Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Administration Needs (916) 920-5983.