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Understanding the Different Types of Trusts in California

types of trusts in california

Trusts are versatile and powerful tools in estate planning, allowing individuals to manage their assets and distribute them according to their wishes. In California, various types of trusts cater to different needs and goals, from minimizing taxes to protecting assets from creditors. This blog will explore the different types of trusts available in California, helping you understand their unique features and benefits.

1. Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust is a trust that can be altered or revoked by the grantor during their lifetime. It allows for flexible management of assets and can help avoid probate upon the grantor’s death.

Key Features:

  • Flexibility: The grantor can change the terms or beneficiaries at any time.

  • Probate Avoidance: Assets in the trust bypass probate, leading to faster distribution to beneficiaries.

  • Privacy: Unlike a will, a trust is not a public document, maintaining privacy.

2. Irrevocable Trust

An irrevocable trust cannot be modified or revoked once established. This type of trust is often used for tax planning and asset protection.

Key Features:

  • Tax Benefits: Assets in an irrevocable trust are removed from the grantor’s taxable estate, potentially reducing estate taxes.

  • Asset Protection: Assets are protected from creditors and legal judgments.

  • Control: The grantor gives up control over the assets, which may be managed by a trustee.

3. Testamentary Trust

A testamentary trust is created through a will and takes effect upon the grantor’s death. It is commonly used to manage assets for minor children or beneficiaries who are not yet capable of managing their inheritance.

Key Features:

  • Delayed Activation: The trust is funded and activated only after the grantor’s death.

  • Probate: Because it is part of the will, it must go through the probate process.

  • Control: Allows the grantor to specify how and when beneficiaries receive assets.

4. Charitable Trust

A charitable trust is designed to benefit a charitable organization or purpose. It can provide significant tax advantages and fulfill philanthropic goals.

Key Features:

  • Tax Deduction: Contributions to a charitable trust can qualify for income tax deductions.

  • Legacy: Supports charitable causes and leaves a lasting impact.

  • Types: Includes charitable remainder trusts (CRT) and charitable lead trusts (CLT).

5. Special Needs Trust

A special needs trust is established to provide for a beneficiary with disabilities without affecting their eligibility for government benefits like Medicaid or SSI.

Key Features:

  • Government Benefits: Assets in the trust do not count against means-tested benefit limits.

  • Quality of Life: Provides funds for additional care and quality-of-life enhancements not covered by government benefits.

  • Trustee Management: A trustee manages the trust to ensure funds are used appropriately.

6. Spendthrift Trust

A spendthrift trust is designed to protect beneficiaries who may be irresponsible with money. It limits their access to the trust’s principal and protects assets from creditors.

Key Features:

  • Protection: Prevents beneficiaries from squandering their inheritance.

  • Creditor Protection: Shields trust assets from creditors’ claims.

  • Trustee Control: The trustee manages distributions according to the grantor’s instructions.

7. Dynasty Trust

A dynasty trust is designed to preserve wealth across multiple generations. It can provide long-term financial support for descendants while minimizing estate taxes.

Key Features:

  • Generational Wealth: Assets remain in the trust for many generations.

  • Tax Efficiency: Minimizes transfer taxes over multiple generations.

  • Control: The grantor sets terms for how future generations will benefit from the trust.

8. Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT)

A qualified personal residence trust allows a homeowner to transfer their residence to the trust while retaining the right to live in it for a specified period.

Key Features:

  • Tax Savings: Reduces the taxable value of the estate by removing the residence from the grantor’s estate.

  • Residency: The grantor can continue living in the home for a period before it transfers to beneficiaries.

  • Gift Tax: The transfer is considered a gift, subject to gift tax rules but often at a reduced value.

9. Life Insurance Trust

A life insurance trust owns a life insurance policy on the grantor’s life. Upon the grantor’s death, the policy proceeds are paid to the trust and managed according to the trust’s terms.

Key Features:

  • Estate Tax Reduction: Removes life insurance proceeds from the taxable estate.

  • Control: The grantor can specify how the proceeds are used and distributed.

  • Liquidity: Provides liquidity to pay estate taxes and other expenses.


Choosing the right type of trust depends on your specific needs, financial goals, and estate planning objectives. Trusts can offer numerous benefits, from probate avoidance and tax savings to asset protection and charitable giving. Consulting with an estate planning attorney in California can help you determine which trust(s) best align with your goals and ensure your estate plan is effectively tailored to your needs. By understanding the various types of trusts available, you can make informed decisions to protect and manage your assets for the benefit of your loved ones and future generations.



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