What Is the Cost of a Living Trust in California?

Different Living Trust Costs and Options

There are a variety of options when completing a California living trust. After some extensive research to determine the cost of a living trust in California, I’ve summarized my results into 2 categories:

* In-Office Consultation

* Online Living Trusts

In-Office Consultation

The In-Office Consultation is your traditional office visit with an attorney. You see these a lot of these listed in the yellow pages. They offer you a free one-hour consultation in the hopes of earning your business.

The typical charge is $2,500. The services provided will be a complete estate plan, which includes a living trust.

Lawyers in California are required to have you sign a fee agreement. This fee agreement will dictate the terms of payment, document delivery, etc. You will typically need to pay the $2,500 up front. This $2,500 will be deposited into the attorney’s trust account.

These types of contracts typically take 3-4 weeks to complete.

After interviewing several law firms, I found they typically include the following documents in their California estate plan:

* California Living Trust

* California Advance Health Care Directive (Living Will)

* California Power of Attorney for Finance

* California Pour-Over Will

The Advance Health Care Directive is important in case you are incapacitated because it allows you to appoint a health care agent who has the authority to make decisions based on your current wishes.

The Power of Attorney for Finance is needed in case you are incapacitated and need someone to take care of your finances (e.g. file your personal tax returns, etc.).

The Pour-Over Will essentially transfers everything to your living trust that was not formally transferred. Basically, you are naming your California living trust as the sole beneficiary of your property.

However, these $2,500 plans did not include some key elements:

* California Notary Fees

* California Transfer Grant Deeds

California Notary Fees

Notary fees in California run a maximum of $10 per signature (that’s the law). If you are single, there are four signatures or $40. Married couples will pay $80. If you use a mobile notary, their travel fees are excessive. Many banks offer a notary service for free.

California Transfer Grant Deeds

After you complete your living trust in California, you will need to transfer your home (and any rental properties) to your living trust. Essentially, you prepare a transfer grant deed to title the property in the name of your trust.

If you don’t complete these transfer grant deeds, the living trust is invalid.

It’s much simpler on your 401k and life insurance because it’s a simple matter of naming your trust as the beneficiary. However, you cannot name a beneficiary on real estate in California. The only way to name a beneficiary on real estate in California is to use a living trust.

After you notarize the trust and prepare your transfer grant deeds (each parcel requires a separate grant deed), you will need to record them. Each transfer grant deed is recorded at the County where the parcel is located. That transfer grant deed is also accompanied by a county change of ownership report. This county change of ownership report is a document required by all 58 California Counties and is used by the County Assessor to see if the property should be:

* Re-assessed

* Documentary transfer tax be applied

Since a living trust is EXEMPT from both of these taxes, you must be careful to complete that form properly.

Now that I’ve discussed in-office consultations, let’s examine online offerings.

Online Living Trusts

There were many options for online trusts as well, as this option was gaining popularity. The price for an online living trust ranges anywhere from $297 to $997, so it’s an avenue where you can save a lot of money.

We found, just like in the in-office version, that many did not include the transfer grant deed. In fact, one provider charged an additional $249 per transfer grant deed (if you owned four properties you would pay $249 x 4 or $996).

We also found there were extra hidden fees for other documents. For example, one provider charged another $40 each for both the advance health care directive AND power of attorney (x2 if you are married or domestic partners because separate ones are required for each or $160). Make sure you pay attention to the fine print.

In the in-office consultation, you pick your trust package up in person, but the online version is shipped, so be sure to verify if the shipping charge is included.

Summary

If you have a complicated estate needs, you’re probably best meeting with a local provider in their office. Whether you are using an online provider or in-office consultation, be sure to take this list with you and ask to ensure ALL of the documents are provided.

If you have more than one piece of real estate, make sure the transfer grant deeds are completed for ALL of the properties. Also make sure they include each preliminary change of ownership report and the recording instructions (separate ones required for each deed).

Lastly, make sure the notary fees are included because they will cost you another $40 (single) and $80 (married). You will also pay another $10 for each transfer grant deed ($20 each if married).