“Trust administration,” and, less frequently, “probate” are the processes by which assets owned by a decedent are transferred to the beneficiaries upon the decedent’s death.  If the decedent had a trust, a trust administration is usually necessary.  If the decedent had only a will (or had neither a will nor trust), then a probate may be required.

Trust administration generally involves these 5 steps:

  1. The assets of the decedent are identified and retitled;
  2. Creditors and taxes are paid;
  3. The decedent’s final income tax return and a return for the estate or trust are filed;
  4. An accounting (of the assets on hand, credits, and expenses) is often made to the beneficiaries; and finally,
  5. The assets are distributed to the beneficiaries.

If the decedent owned real estate, it is typically sold.  In larger estates a federal estate tax return is often filed.

Trust Administration and Probate Differences

The primary difference between a trust administration and a probate is that a probate is court supervised and the court must approve many of the acts of the executor. As such, a probate typically takes longer and is more expensive than a trust administration. That being said, all but the simplest trust administrations take several months.

Our attorneys are experienced at guiding trustees and executors through the trust administration or probate process. We typically advise clients to take care of the funeral and other family and personal matters before worrying about legal issues. However, because this process is often more complicated than it seems, and there are many traps for the unwary, it is a good idea to contact an attorney within a few weeks of a decedent’s death. If you are the executor of a will, or the trustee of a trust, we welcome the opportunity to assist you.


Barr & Young represents clients throughout Northern California, including Danville, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Pleasant Hill, Livermore, and Oakland.


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