In California there are two general ways to structure an estate plan: with a Living Trust” or with a “Will. There are several differences between the two, including upfront cost, costs down the line, ease and difficulty of administration, the need for hiring an attorney and of course, the emotional toll on your family. 

While this is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of all of these, I hope the following helps you understand and navigate your options:

  • Upfront cost: An estate plan with a will as the primary vehicle for distributing your property shouldn’t cost you more than $1000. An estate plan with a living trust will cost you somewhere between $1500 – $6000.
  • Administration after your death: A will must be “probated”, meaning, your named executor must file your will with the county clerk, open a probate petition and seek approval from the court before distributing your estate. In comparison, a trust is administered privately, with or without the assistance of an attorney, and with no judicial oversight (unless requested). This is almost always an upside, but CAN be a downside for some clients. If you can’t adequately plan ahead in your trust, probate court may be the best place for your estate to be administered.
  • Cost after your death: For many families, probate court translates to TIME and MONEY. In order to probate your estate after your death, your family must file a probate petition ($485  in LA) and will likely hire a probate attorney to help navigate the procedural maze that is probate court. The attorney will take a percentage of the estate, pursuant to the CA probate code, prior to your family receiving their inheritance. Additionally, the court imposes its own fees, which range greatly depending on the size and complexity of your estate.
  • Privacy: A trust will remain private (unless judicial oversight is requested). A will is made public upon your death.

There are so many factors to consider when planning your estate, but hopefully this explains the main differences between simply signing a will and executing a living trust. I, obviously, recommend hiring an experienced estate planning attorney to help and advise you in this process. Find an attorney you’re comfortable with and be honest and upfront with them about your goals and your questions.

Happy Planning!


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Brittany Britton is licensed to practice law in the state of California only.