How to Conquer Trusts on the California Bar Exam
Here, we tell you how to conquer Trusts on the California Bar Exam. Trusts is regularly tested on the California Bar Exam. The California Examiners often test the same issues semi-frequently, so it is worth it to be aware of what these issues are.
Here, we tell you how to approach Trusts on the California Bar Exam, including some of the highly tested issues in Trusts questions.
Trusts on the California Bar Exam
1. First, know how Trusts is tested.
On California essays, you should answer Trusts questions in accordance with general principles of law unless the question asks you to answer it according to California law. California law is pretty similar to the majority law and the law of the Uniform Trust Code (UTC), which has been adopted by most states.
On most exams, California law is applied to Trusts issues.
Trusts is frequently combined with Wills (and is sometimes combined with Wills even when not classified as such by the California Bar Examiners). Be on the lookout for Trusts and Wills being tested together.
2. Be aware of the highly tested issues.
The State Bar of California tests certain issues over and over again in Trusts questions. (We have a nice summary of these in our California Bar Exam One-Sheets).
Some of the “favorite” California Bar Exam issues on Trusts questions include the following:
- Trust validity: A trust is valid if the following elements are present: (1) it has a trustee, (2) it has a beneficiary, (3) it has trust property, (4) the settlor has the present intent and capacity to create a trust, and (5) the trust is created for a valid purpose. Remember that a trust will not fail if a specific trustee is not appointed or if the trustee refuses to serve. The court will simply appoint a trustee.
- Testamentary trusts: These are trusts created within a will. In order to be valid, the essential elements must be ascertained from (1) the terms of the will, (2) an existing writing incorporated by reference, or (3) the exercise of a power of appointment created in the will.
- Charitable trusts: Be familiar with the cy pres doctrine. The doctrine of cy pres provides that: if a particular charitable purpose has become unlawful, impracticable, or impossible to achieve; no alternative charity is named in the trust; and the court finds that the settlor had general, rather than specific, charitable intent—then the trust will not fail; the trust property does not revert to the settlor or the settlor’s successors in interest; and the court may apply cy pres to modify or terminate the trust by directing that the trust property be applied or distributed, in whole or in part, in a manner consistent with the settlor’s general charitable intent.
- Duties of a trustee: be aware of the duties of a trustee—e.g., the duty to administer the trust in accordance with its terms, the duty to account, the duty of care, and the duty of loyalty.
3. Be aware of key Trusts vocabulary.
You should be familiar with key Trusts terms.
- Settlor (creates the trust)
- Beneficiary (benefits from the trust)
- Trustee (manages the trust)
- Testamentary trust (a trust created by a will)
- Pourover will (a will that gives a gift to a trust)
- Cy pres (if a charitable trust fails and the settlor had general charitable intent, the court can use this doctrine to give the trust assets to a different charity)
- Fiduciary duties (be aware of the duty to account, duty to act impartially, duty to follow the Uniform Prudent Investor Act, etc.)
Being familiar with key vocabulary will help you gain credibility with the grader and it will help you maximize your bar exam essay score!
The best way to excel at Trusts questions is to practice writing answers to essay questions. This will help you become acquainted with how Trusts is tested. And it will help you master the highly tested issues.
Here are a few essay questions with student answers that we recommend you practice to get exposed to some highly tested topics in Trusts essay questions:
- February 2016 essay question and student answer (see essay question #1 on the exam)
- February 2015 essay question and student answer (see essay question #6 on the exam—this is a crossover question with Wills)
Good luck studying for the California Bar Exam!
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