When it comes to setting up a revocable trust, most people are primarily concerned with avoiding the time and expense associated with the probate process. To avoid probate, it is crucial that legal title to any real property is transferred to the trustee of the trust. In discussing the importance of funding the trust with real property, many clients want to know whether or not the transfer to the trust will trigger an acceleration of the debt on the property under a “due-on-sale” clause. Although the question is fairly common, the answer is not as straightforward as you might expect.

 Transfers of a Personal Residence

Under federal law, due-on-sale provisions are regulated by the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982 (Garn Act). The Garn Act, as interpreted by the Code of Federal Regulations, prevents a lender from enforcing a due-on-sale clause when a home is transferred to a revocable trust in which the borrower is a beneficiary and the home is occupied (or will be occupied) by the borrower. As far as California law is concerned, a due-on-sale clause cannot be enforced if the property transferred into the revocable trust is “residential property” and the borrower is a beneficiary of the trust. Here, “residential property” is defined as “any real property which contains at least one but not more than four housing units.” Therefore, under both federal and California law, transferring your personal residence into your revocable living trust will not trigger a due-on-sale clause.


Continue Reading Avoiding Acceleration: How to Put the Brakes on Due-on-Sale Clauses when Funding Your Revocable Living Trust with Encumbered Real Property

When it comes to heading-off potential lawsuits, one of the most powerful weapons in a trustee’s arsenal is the “notification by the trustee.” By sending this notice to beneficiaries and heirs, the trustee can cut the timeframe for filing a trust contest down to a mere 120 days. Because of this, a solid understanding of the procedural issues involved with the notification is critical for both the trustee and potential contestants.

In handling a trust contest, it is important to recognize that procedural issues in probate cases are governed by both the Probate Code and the Code of Civil Procedure. This can lead to somewhat complicated—and not always obvious—consequences. What’s more, guidance from the courts regarding the overlap of these two codes is scant. Luckily, in the past few months the Courts of Appeal have issued two opinions specifically discussing procedural issues involving the 120-day statute of limitations triggered by a trustee’s notice.

From these cases, we learn that a trust contest is “brought” at the time it is filed (not when it is served) and that the 120-day window is not extended simply because the notice is sent by mail.

The Notification:

With a typical revocable trust, the trust becomes irrevocable when the settlor dies. The trustee then has sixty days to give notice to the beneficiaries and heirs that the trust is now irrevocable. The Probate Code also requires the trustee to include the following information: (1) the identity of the settlor and date the trust was signed; (2) the trustee’s contact information; (3) the “principal place of administration” of the trust (usually the trustee’s residential or business address); (4) that the recipient is entitled to a copy of the trust; and (5) any additional information the trust requires the trustee to include. Finally, since the trust is now irrevocable because of the settlor’s death, the notice must also include the following warning (in its own paragraph and in not less than 10-point boldface font):

“You may not bring an action to contest the trust more than 120 days from the date this notification by the trustee is served upon you or 60 days from the date on which a copy of the terms of the trust is mailed or personally delivered to you during that 120-day period, whichever is later.”


Continue Reading When Applying the 120-Day Statute of Limitations Under Probate Code § 16061.8, When is a Trust Contest “Brought?”

In my two previous posts, I discussed the value of comprehensive estate planning even if you have a small estate or you want everything to go to your spouse.  In this last installment, I will address the most common reason I hear from clients who say they don’t need an estate plan, which is, “I don’t need an estate plan because I have everything in beneficiary designation accounts.”

People often try to create a “do-it-yourself” estate plan by creating beneficiary designations on all of their assets.  This is typically done by titling assets with another person “with right of survivorship,” holding assets jointly, or creating “payable on death” (POD) or “transfer on death” (TOD) accounts.  I caution against using this approach for several reasons.

In California, you can have $150,000 in total assets (subject to a few exclusions) outside of a trust or without beneficiary designations without triggering a probate.  Additionally, the threshold amount for transferring real property without a probate in California is $50,000.  With TOD/POD accounts, if the designated beneficiary is deceased at your death and if no successor is named, the account goes back to your estate and counts toward the $150,000.  The same is true if you are the surviving owner of property that had been owned “with right of survivorship,” which often happens with real property.  If enough beneficiary designations fail or were never created, it is possible that a probate will be required.


Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part Three)

Last week, I blogged that a common refrain that we hear from people when we encourage them to consider estate planning is “But I don’t need an estate plan.”  This post addresses the second of three of the most common refrains that we hear.

I don’t need an estate plan because I want everything to go to my spouse.

Many married (or registered domestic partner) couples believe that they don’t need an estate plan because each spouse or partner wants everything to go to the other.  This is true for community property.  However, if either spouse owns any separate property, the separate property will be divided between the surviving spouse and other relatives.  Separate property generally includes anything owned prior to marriage and anything acquired during marriage by gift or inheritance, and titling a separate property asset jointly or commingling it with community property will not convert it to community property.  Many married couples will have at least some separate property, and if the surviving spouse and his or her in-laws do not get along, it could lead to disputes.  Additionally, if you have children, half to two-thirds of the separate property will go to your children, depending on the number of children.  If the children are minors, a court proceeding may be needed to distribute the assets to a guardian of the estate for the child or into a blocked account until the child turns 18 (even if the child has a surviving parent).   Even if a large sum of money is involved, there is no way to prevent the child from accessing the entire account at age 18.


Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part Two)

A common refrain that we hear from people when we encourage them to consider estate planning, especially people in their twenties and thirties, is “But I don’t need an estate plan.”  The reasons vary, and this post will address the first of three of the most common ones.

Reason # One:  I Don’t Need an Estate Plan Because I Don’t Have Very Much.

For young people just starting out, this is a common belief.  But, estate planning isn’t just a way to distribute your property after your death – it’s also planning for your incapacity and making arrangements for your minor children.  A “foundational” estate plan generally consists of three or four documents:  (1)   a durable power of attorney for finances (DPAF), (2) a durable power of attorney for health care/advance health care directive (DPAHC), (3) a will, and occasionally, (4) a trust.  Of those four, the first two of those documents are exclusively for use during your lifetime.  The DPAF names someone to handle your financial and personal affairs if you are ever unable to do so, and the DPAHC names someone to make medical decisions for you and sets forth your wishes for medical treatment.  Additionally, if you have a trust, the trust names a person to manage the assets in the trust both during your life (if you are ever unable to do so) and upon your death.


Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part One)