Is a Living Trust Considered a Public Document?

By Beverly Bird

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.

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Are Living Trusts Exempt From Lawsuits?


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The Different Types of Revocable Living Trusts

You can usually create a trust to match your personal needs and concerns. All fall into one of three categories, but within these categories, a great deal of variety exists. Trusts are either living or testamentary. Living trusts are created during your lifetime, not by the terms of your will after your death. Living trusts can be either revocable or irrevocable.

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A living trust is a means of transferring property to an individual or group of people. It is created by a person known as a settlor or grantor, who often acts as trustee, or manager of the trust, and names a successor trustee to manage and distribute the property in the trust upon his death. If you are a beneficiary named in the trust, you may want to obtain a copy of the living trust from the current trustee to see what property you are entitled to receive.

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