Creating a “living trust,” as opposed to a will, allows an individual to take a more active role in the preparation of their estate. In a will, the testator designates someone to act as executor, but that person is not authorized to act until after the testator’s death. The executor must submit the will to a probate court, which can take time. A living will allows the process of distributing assets to begin while the testator—known as the “grantor” of the trust—is still alive. The trustee can bypass the probate process when the time comes. California real estate investors may benefit from living trusts. They should understand the various legal pitfalls that they can produce.
Fiduciary Duties of a Trustee
When the grantor of a living trust is still alive, they often serve as the trustee. The trust instrument should designate a successor trustee to take over upon the grantor’s death. The trustee owes fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries, and could be held liable for breaching those duties. Beneficiaries are only entitled to equitable remedies under California law, such as compelling certain actions or removing the trustee.
If the trust is a “revocable living trust,” the grantor may change the terms of the trust, or revoke it entirely. The successor trustee likely will not have that authority. The legal pitfalls for a trustee of a living trust derive from their fiduciary and statutory duties to the beneficiaries.