A revocable trust is confidential during its creator’s lifetime, unless he chooses to share its details. The creator usually acts as trustee while he is alive, reserving the right to add assets, sell them, remove beneficiaries or add some. If he has an attorney draft the trust documents for him, that attorney generally may not even legally confirm that he has done so. However, this changes significantly when the creator dies.
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Check recorded deeds for real estate owned by the trust’s creator, if you think he has created a trust. These records are generally open to the public with the county recorder. If you’re correct and there is a trust, the deeds will be in the name of the trust. However, it is possible that the creator did make a trust but did not transfer his real estate into it.
Speak with the trust’s creator if you can confirm that he has created a revocable trust. Depending on his good will and your relationship with him, he might tell you if he has named you as a beneficiary, especially if you can present a good reason why you need to know. The law doesn’t require him to tell you, however.
Request information from the creator’s attorney after the creator's death. By law, when he dies, the trust changes from revocable to irrevocable. A successor trustee takes over management of the trust in his stead. At this point in time, the attorney may be able to tell you if a trust exists and name the successor trustee.
Submit a written request to the successor trustee, asking for a copy of the trust documents. Whether he grants your request depends on the laws in your state. In some states, only named beneficiaries have the right to view the documents. However, in many other states, heirs may make the same request regardless of whether they are named as beneficiaries. Children, grandchildren, parents and spouses usually stand in line to inherit if the decedent did not plan his estate or leave a will, so by law, they must receive notice that the trust is now irrevocable and receive a copy of the documents.
Tips & Warnings
- If the successor trustee refuses to give you a copy of the trust documents, speak with an attorney to find out your rights in your state. Make sure the law permits you access to them as the creator's heir, even he did not name you as a beneficiary. You have the right to contest a trust just as you would a will, but you may need legal help.
- If you ask the creator of the trust if you are a beneficiary, and if he says yes, keep in mind that this can change. During his lifetime, he can remove you as beneficiary any time he likes. Just because he confirms it at the time you talk, it doesn’t mean you’ll still be his beneficiary at the time of his death.
References & Resources
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