Preserve your legacy

Trust Administration & Probate

When the time comes for your estate and property to be distributed, it is important you have in place a trust that can be administered so probate can be avoided.

When the unexpected occurs…

Trust Administration refers to the identification, management and distribution of Trust assets. A Successor Trustee is assigned by the creator of the Trust and they administer the Trust on behalf of the beneficiaries after the creator of the Trust passes or is incapacitated. It is the Successor Trustee’s duty to follow the stipulations of the Trust. It is recommended that a Trustee works with a specialized law firm because they can….

Provide experience and resources that can assist in the administration

Make sure you are following the proper laws

Help protect trustees from personal liability

Properly execute the wishes disclosed in the Trust documents

While a Trust typically provides clear and consise plans for the decedents assets, navigating the process can be complex. Our guidance can help remove this stress and allow you to grieve properly.

When there is no Trust in place, or there is only a Will, probate court becomes neccessary to direct the distribution of assets. If you are in a position where you need to navigate the probate process, our team is here to help as well.

In need of a probate attorney or assistance with Trust Administration?

 Our complimentary consultations help you determine if we are the right fit for you.

Here’s how we help you when it comes to Trust Administration.

 We’re here to answer your questions, assist you with the necessary documents and filings, and provide guidance to the trustee and beneficiaries when the time comes.


Review and analyze Trust terms and provide advisement for the Trustee


Assist with tax filings, property tax and capital gains tax issues


Manage titling issues like Small Estate Affidavits and Heggstad petitions


Prepare transfer of ownership and other necessary documents


Work with CPAs and financial advisors to administer the Trust efficiently


Handle distribution of inheritance to beneficiaries

Trust Administration

When you’re a Trustee…

We’re here to break down the step by step process of administering a trust.

STEP 1- connect with an estate firm

While it’s possible to administer the Trust yourself as a Trustee, you are entitled to hire a experienced Trust Attorney to assist you with California Trust Administration. A Trust Attorney can aid you in a variety of ways, from eliminating stress, preventing errors from occuring and reduce your personal liability.

Sometimes, you may think you can handle the job on your own but somewhere during the process, you find yourself in need of assistance. We strongly encourage you, as Trustee, to connect with an estate firm quickly after your loved one has passed.

After a death, a Trust Attorney can help immediately. Many times, people come to us in the midst of conflict and confusion. Obtaining our services beforehand, or in the early stages of this process, can prevent much strife and at times. It can even save the relationship between the Trustee and Beneficiaries.

At Brandon J. Smith, we can aid you in all the following steps of Trust Administration. Maybe you don’t need us right away- and maybe you won’t need us at all- but making an inititial connectuin can can save you time, reduce your worries, and make you feelconfident that a legal expert in Trust Administration has your back.


As a Trustee, initially you will need to locate the Estate Plan and any relevant documents. Your loved ones attorney should be able to provide a copy if you cannot find your loved ones plan. As a Trustee, you are responsible for protecting these because they represent legal rights and you can be held liable. Copies are to be provided to anyone listed as a beneficiary.

Another document you must obtain is the certified copy of the Death Certificate. You can get this from the funeral home usually within 72 hours after your loved one has passed.

STEP 3- Determination of assets

To begin the administration, you must first determine all the assets of your loved one. Some personal items- like furniture or pets- may have been left out of the California Living Trust but may be included in a Will. Since they do not have deeds or documents of title, that important separate document, the “pour-over will” transfers those items to the trust.

Other items, such as bank accounts and real estate, do not typically need court assistance as the creator of the Trust provides explicit instructions on how to distribute the wealth.

As Trustee, it’s now your job to make a detailed list of everything that was both listed in the Living Trust in addition to what you can identify was left out.

Your list must include all items, both assets in and out of the Trust such as…

  • deeds
  • bank accounts
  • retirement accounts
  • life insurance policies
  • investments
  • business assets
  • tax returns

And bills or debts such as…

  • credit card accounts
  • utility bills
  • personal loans
  • medical bills
  • mortgages
  • unpaid taxes
  • funeral bill

It’s also important to remember that you need keep this list available to the other beneficiaries of the trust.

In some cases, you may realize that some things are not in the trust which should be. For example, real estate that was purchased after the Trust was created or cash that may have been discovered after a loved one has passed. These items will need special attention and could potentially create conflict among the beneficiaries. This is one of the reasons why an attorney should be assisting you through the Trust Administration process.



Reviewing all the documents within the Trust must be done with care and attentiveness. Everything disclosed in the Trust can not be altered or eliminated after all the grantors of the Trust have passed away. As the Trustee, you are legally bound to its provisions and it is against the law to conceal or change any of the instruction provided within the Trust, Will, or Estate Plan. Some of the instructions that the grantors may have included between the Final Will or Trust could be…

  • Specifcs regarding the loved one’s funeral, cremation, burial and service.
  • Administration of personal effects
  • Are there any specific endownments for any of the Trust Beneficiaries?
  • Is there a Residuary Trust and how is it dispersed?

You will is also need to identify some of the following items….

  • The date and location where the Trust agreement was signed
  • Witnesses who signed the Trust
  • The Notary Public 

Establishing date-of-death values for all your loved one’s assets is a crucial componet of being the Successor Trustee. That means, to obtain proper values, determining valuation must be done swiftly and efficiently.

All financial institutions where the decedents assets are located must be contacted to retrieve these date-of-death values. For assets including businesses, real estate, personal effects including jewelry, artwork, or other collectibles may require a professional appraiser.

In order to determine if any estate or inheritance taxes are owed, all of the deceased assets need to be valued, even those outside the Trust. When assets are liquadated, knowing if there is any increase in their value is also crucial.

Assets likely outside of the trust could include life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s and annuities with named beneficiaries.


The outstanding bills of someone who has passed away must still be settled after their death. To be clear, is the estate that owes this money, not the Trustee. Before any assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries, all your loved ones debts must be paid. These debts could include car loans, personal loans, credit cards and business loans. Finding out the balances and settling these debts can cause a  delay a distribution, especially if your loved one did not keep emaculate and detailed records. By hiring a Trust Attorney, we can help expedite this process.

The Trustee is also responsible for paying the ongoing expenses of administering the trust, such as legal fees or accounting fees. Then there are ongoing expenses like utilities, insurance premiums, mortgage payments, and homeowner association or service fees that may need your attention as well.

As a Trustee, you are entitled to compensation for managing these items, however determine your stipend with caution as doing so may cause conflict with the other beneficiaries. Taking advantage of this entitlement could potentially leave you liable if it is suspected that you endulged more than necessary. 

As for taxes, you as the Trustee are now responsible for filing the decedents final tax return. If the Estate earns any income after their death, you must file separate state and federal tax returns on behalf of the Estate.

It is imperative that these returns are filed with the professional assitance of a CPA. There are legal parameters that must be followed and if these filings are done incorrectly, you may be liable.


STEP 7- Distribute assets

The final step as a Successor Trustee is to distribute assets.

In some cases, businesses or real estate is easier to distribute once sold. This creates a more equitable and balanced distribution if their are multiple beneficiaries. It may be your sole decision whether or not these items get sold off before administering the distribution. If they are, any taxes or mortgages must be paid, as described in the previous step.

Once everything above is full settled, then is the time to actually distribute trust income or property to their rightful heirs. Again, this must be done strictly according to terms of the Will and trust.

It is imperative that you do not distribute anything, even small items or cash you find, without completeting all the necessary steps.

Your beneficiaries will expect you to have concise valuations of all assets and debts and accessible accounting information to back those valuations up.

There are a number of documents you as a Trustee may need to complete such as transfer deeds and other change-of-title documents. Working with an estate or Living Trust Attorney along with a good accountant, and in some cases a financial advisor, will help ensure that the process of administering a Trust goes smoothly. The goal is to prevent pushback and conflict from beneficiaries, while also protecting you as the Trustee from any personal liability.


Helping you understand, handle and prevent probate.

Our role during the probate process will depend on what the executor or administrator needs. Things like whether there was a will, how complicated the estate is, whether there are legal challenges from beneficiaries or debtors, and other issues with the estate property. When we help you plan your estate, we do it with the goal of preventing probate when it comes time to execute your will.

The Probate Process

Probate can be a lengthy and stressful process without the proper guidance. Allow our team to guide your executor to ensure deadlines are met and inventory is properly handled. We can assist with court filings, managing creditors, and coordination of providers like CPA’s or real estate agents.

Preventing Probate

With proper estate planning, you can avoid the probate process and make transcations and trust administration a smooth and hassle free process. The passing of a loved on is stressful enough, so preventing probate is essential for our team when serving you.

TRust administration and probate

FAQS & Answers

Why would I want to avoid Probate?

Probate can be a lengthy process (sometimes ranging over a year). It can also be expensive. CA has mandatory probate fees that are the highest in the country. Here are the current rates:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • .5% of the next $15 million
  • A reasonable amount (determined by the court) for any amounts higher than $25 million
If my loved one left a Will but not a Trust, will I still need legal assistance?

Yes. If a loved one has died with a Will but without a valid, signed Trust, it is even more important to consult with an attorney than if the person created a Full Estate Trust. In California, the lack of a Trust requires special court action and a probate judge to approve each action made by the Executor of the Will. The person named as the Executor must locate the original Will and file it with the local probate court, and usually must initiate a probate proceeding. 

If I am a trustee, can the estate cover legal fees?

In general, yes. Most Trusts allow for the Trustee to enlist the services of a Trust Administration attorney, with all the legal fees paid by the Trust. A Trustee should consider hiring a specialized attorney who is specifically experienced in administering Trusts so they can receive proper guidance and complete required tasks for the administration process, collection of assets, and eventual transfers to the beneficiaries. That attorney should be supported by qualified administrative staff.

Are there rules that need to followed if I am a trustee?

Yes. Trustees must abide by many rules under California law, in addition to the terms of the Trust itself. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Failure to properly follow California law can result in a breach of trust and personal financial liability—including for failure to take action to protect the assets of the estate. This is why we recommend at least an initial consultation with a qualified Estate and Trust Attorney if you become a Trustee.

What is a trust settlement agreement?

A trust settlement agreement is a written contract between the Beneficiaries of a Trust, whether individuals or organizations, resolving any disagreements over the terms of the Trust. This document, also known as an estate settlement agreement or a non-judicial settlement agreement, is only legally binding if all those affected by the provisions of a Trust are also parties to the trust settlement agreement.

A trust settlement agreement in California may arise from mediation or a trust settlement conference. Mediation or a trust settlement conference is a good thing if it results in a trust settlement agreement that helps the parties resolve their differences and allows them maximum flexibility in their relationships to the Trust.

If I was named a Successor trustee, can I relinquish this responsibility?