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Who is Entitled to See My Trust?

by | Sep 22, 2023 | Firm News

I have the discussion of who is entitled to a copy of a trust typically while I am meeting with the client to sign their documents.  The answer depends on if your trust is revocable or irrevocable.

While the trust is revocable – typically during the lifetime of the settlor or settlors, – there is no one who is entitled to see the trust except the settlor.  If the trustee is someone other than the settlor, then the trustee is entitled to see the trust.  And, if the settlor is the beneficiary and they lack capacity, then the beneficiary’s agent under a power of attorney or the conservator of their estate is entitled to see a copy of the trust.

There are circumstances where a third party is demanding to see a copy of a revocable trust and they are not accepting the certification or abstract of the trust.  I see this sometimes with title companies when dealing with property being transferred into or out of a trust.  I will argue with the title company that they are not entitled to a copy, but ultimately – and with the client’s consent – I will provide a copy since it may prevent the transaction to be completed.

The probate code provides for who is entitled to receive a copy of a trust once it becomes irrevocable.  A trust can be irrevocable upon creation, become irrevocable due to the death of the settlor, or become irrevocable upon a specific event.  If the trust became irrevocable due to the death of a settlor, then all the beneficiaries named in the trust and amendments as well as all the heirs of the settlor are entitled to a copy of the trust.  While heirs and beneficiaries may be the same, sometimes they are not.  An example is where a parent does not provide for a child and disinherits them, that child is an heir and is still entitled to see a copy of the trust even though they are not a beneficiary.

If a party entitled to see a copy of the trust has to hire counsel to obtain a copy of the trust, the trustee could be liable to paying the attorney fees and costs incurred by that party.

The terms of the trust include the trust document as well as all the amendments.  If a trust is amended and restated in its entirety, then just the restated trust and any subsequent amendments must be provided to those entitled to it.

Third parties involved in the administration of the trust may need to see the trust to confirm the trustee’s authority and distribution terms.  This includes brokerage firms, banks, title companies, CPAs, assessors, etc.  Sometimes a certification or abstract is sufficient, but if the third party requests a copy of the trust, then it should be provided.