Does a Beneficiary of a Living Trust Have the Right to See the Trust?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Does a Beneficiary of a Living Trust Have the Right to See the Trust?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

A living trust is a legal document that allows the creator of the trust, or grantor, to transfer ownership of his assets into the trust. A living trust is generally established to benefit certain people or entities, also known as beneficiaries. While the grantor is still living, he is usually the first and only beneficiary. Contingent beneficiaries are those named individuals or entities that receive the trust's contents upon the grantor's death. Generally, these beneficiaries only have the right to see the trust when the grantor dies and the trust is no longer revocable.

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The Basics of a Living Trust

Creating a living trust is beneficial because a grantor's assets do not need to go through probate upon his death, which can be lengthy and time-consuming. With a living trust, the grantor is able to assign exactly what assets he wants distributed to which beneficiary on his own terms.

A trustee is the person who manages the trust on behalf of the beneficiary. Oftentimes, the grantor and trustee are the same person. However, the grantor/trustee will need to designate a successor trustee to manage the trust when the grantor dies.

Almost any type of asset can be transferred into a living trust, which the grantor can change or revoke at any point during his lifetime. Of course, the grantor always has access to the trust document.

Contingent Beneficiaries and Successor Trustee

During the grantor's lifetime, the contingent beneficiaries and the successor trustee do not have any rights or responsibilities under the trust. It is not until the grantor dies and the trust can no longer be amended or revoked that they gain certain rights under the trust, including the option of seeing parts or all of the trust document.

Upon the grantor's death, the contingent beneficiaries acquire the right to receive the contents of the trust, and the successor trustee adopts the responsibilities of managing the trust on behalf of the beneficiaries and ensuring the trust's provisions are carried out. Each state has its own laws that govern the exact responsibilities of a trustee, but, in general, the trustee must act as a fiduciary. The trustee should maintain open lines of communication with the beneficiaries about accounting and other trust information, unless the trust states otherwise.

In the event of a dispute between the beneficiaries and the trustee, sometimes the beneficiaries demand to see the trust document. Depending on state laws, beneficiaries may have a right to see the entire document or may only have a right to see the portion of the document that is relevant to the dispute. For example, in Connecticut, beneficiaries have the right to receive a copy of the entire trust document. In Arizona, however, beneficiaries only have the right to receive the section of the trust document that is relevant to their interest in the trust's contents.

Creating a living trust is a useful way to avoid probate and give a grantor greater control over his assets while he is still living. While state laws vary, most states allow the beneficiaries to at least receive a copy of the portion of the trust that is relevant to their interests.

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