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Does a Beneficiary Have the Right to See a Trust Document?

08/23/2023 | Blog, Estate Planning

A trust can be an invaluable estate planning tool. These devices give the grantor, or trust creator, the ability to direct assets into a separate legal entity for the benefit of named beneficiaries. Throughout its existence, the trust will be administrated by a designated trustee who will be responsible for making disbursements (payments) to beneficiaries according to the trust’s terms. As a beneficiary, you will want to know what the trust says so that you can evaluate if the trustee is performing their required duties. This raises the question: Does a trust beneficiary have the right to see a trust document?

Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

When the grantor is alive, the trust is referred to as a living trust. Living trusts are revocable, meaning that the grantor can make changes to the trust terms and property at any time and is not obligated to share the document with anyone. A beneficiary could be removed at the grantor’s will and therefore does not have a vested interest in a revocable trust. Without a vested interest, a living trust beneficiary cannot compel a grantor or the trustee, who is often the grantor, to show them a copy of the document.

Once the grantor dies, however, the trust will become irrevocable. When a revocable trust becomes irrevocable, it can no longer be changed, and the existing beneficiaries’ interest will become vested. Consequently, when a revocable trust converts to being irrevocable, California law requires that the trustee report specific information and account to the beneficiaries.

What are a Trust Beneficiary’s Rights?

The trustee is required to communicate with all beneficiaries. This means that irrevocable trust beneficiaries have the right to be kept informed about the trust and any changes to its terms. These beneficiaries also have a right to an accounting by the trustee regarding the trust’s expenses, income and interest earned by the trust, and the status of trust assets. Irrevocable trust beneficiaries have the right to distributions according to the trust instrument’s terms. These individuals also have the right to seek the removal of the trustee if it appears that the trustee is not fulfilling their duties. Additionally, beneficiaries can petition to terminate a trust when its terms have been fulfilled.

Beneficiary’s Right to See a Copy of the Trust Document

Generally, a trust beneficiary named in irrevocable a California trust has the right to see a copy of the trust instrument. A beneficiary can also ask the trustee to provide a copy of the trust document. If the trustee fails to produce the document or refuses, the beneficiary can file a petition with the probate court seeking relief. However, it may not be necessary to go to court to obtain a copy of the trust instrument.

A beneficiary who has concerns about the trustee or seeing the trust instrument should consult with an experienced California trust and estate planning attorney. By meeting with counsel, you can review your options and learn more about your beneficiary rights and the trustee’s responsibilities under the law.

At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are California trust and estate planning and attorneys with the experience you need to protect your interests. We can help you evaluate your circumstances and determine the best solutions for you. Please contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment today.