Is a Living Trust Considered a Public Document?

by Beverly Bird
Your trust documents are not available for the world to see.

Your trust documents are not available for the world to see.

Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

Living trusts have a certain mystique – a reputation for being an estate-planning tool for the wealthy. In fact, these trusts are simply legal entities into which you transfer ownership of your property during your lifetime. If you form a revocable living trust, you retain control over the assets and can prevent the details of your finances and assets from becoming public knowledge after your death.

Probate Avoidance

One of the greatest incentives for forming and funding a trust is that your assets do not require probate to pass to your beneficiaries. Your trust technically owns them, so your successor trustee can pass them to others at your death without involving the court. When you distribute property by will, the will must be filed with the court and becomes a matter of public record. But it's not necessary to file trust formation documents, either before or after your death.

Who Can See the Documents

Although they're not public record, your trust's formation documents aren't totally confidential. In most states, your trustee must send notice to all your beneficiaries when you die, letting them know that they can request a copy. In some states, such as California, your trustee must also notify your heirs at law and offer them the same right. These are people who would have inherited by operation of law if you had not left a will and made no other estate plan provisions.