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By: Scott Grossman on September 21st, 2021

How to Get a Copy of a Trust Document

How to Get a Copy of a Trust Document

In California, there are three steps to getting a copy of a trust document:

  1. Make a written demand for a copy of the trust and its amendments, if any;
  2. Wait 60 days; and
  3. If you don’t receive a copy of the trust within 60 days of making your written demand, then file a petition with the probate court.

Trustee Must Provide a Copy of the Trust

The trustee of a trust is required to send a copy of the trust and its amendments, if there are any trust amendments, to the beneficiaries of the trust and heirs of the settlor (i.e., the person who created the trust) within 60 days of a written request by a trust beneficiary or heir.  There are two exceptions to this rule:

  1. When a trust may be revoked. In practical terms, this means if the settlor is still alive and mentally competent, then the trustee does not have to provide a copy of the trust to a beneficiary who requests it.
  2. If the beneficiary and trustee are the same person.

Who is Entitled to Receive a Copy of the Trust

Anyone listed as a trust beneficiary is entitled to receive a copy of the trust.  Also, the heirs of the settlor are entitled to a copy of the trust.  This is particularly important when an heir is told they have been disinherited.  Some trustees will use this as an excuse not to provide a copy of the trust.  That’s impermissible.  An heir who has been written out of a trust must have a copy of the trust in to determine whether to file a trust contest.

Heirship is also important because it puts a limit on who can obtain a copy.  An heir is someone biologically related to the settlor or married to the settlor.  Children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, parents, nieces, and nephews are all potential heirs.  Friends, neighbors, and in-laws are not heirs.  They may be able to help an heir, but they don’t have a right to get a copy of the trust for themselves.

Make a Written Demand for the Trust

Making a written demand for a copy of the trust is the key to getting a copy of the trust.  If your trustee is doing their job correctly, then you won’t need to make a written demand.  But if your trustee isn’t doing their job, and that’s probably the reason you are reading this article, then make the written demand.  Once you send your written demand to the trustee, the trustee has 60 days to provide you with a copy of the trust.  Your written demand may prompt a lazy trustee to do the right thing by sending you a copy of the trust.  For the dishonest or incompetent trustee, who won’t be willing to send you a copy of the trust, it starts the time running on your ability to get into court.

Trustee’s Notice Is Not the Same as a Written Demand

Some people mistakenly believe the notice a trustee is required to send to beneficiaries and heirs is a substitute for making a written demand.  It’s not. The trustee has to send a notification telling you there has been a change of trustee when a trust, or a portion of a trust, becomes irrevocable because of the death of a settlor.  The trustee’s notice must be sent to each trust beneficiary and heir of the settlor. The notice must be sent within 60 days of the settlor’s death and the notice must inform you of the following:

  • The identity of the settlor(s) and the date the trust was created
  • Name, address, and telephone number of each trustee
  • The address for the physical location where the principal place of trust administration is located
  • Notification the beneficiary or heir is entitled, upon reasonable request to the trustee, to receive from the trustee a true and complete copy of the terms of the trust

If you read closely, you will see the trustee is not required to send out a copy of the trust with the notice. In some situations trustee will send a copy on their own, then your problem is solved.  If the trustee does not send a copy of the trust, then you must make a written demand.

How to Write a Demand for the Trust

California’s Trust Law does not have any required language when making a written demand for a copy of the trust.  Your demand can be this simple:

 

[Today’s Date]

 

Dear Trustee,

 

I am requesting a copy of the John Smith Trust and its amendments.  Please send the copies to me at my home address, which is 123 Main Street, Anytown, California 12345.

 

Sincerely,

Sam Brown

 

California’s Trust Law doesn’t say whether an email or text qualifies as a written demand.  Judges tend to take a broad view of what is a written demand.  Having said that, for the cost of a stamp and a photocopy of your letter, it is a good idea to send a letter by mail.

Your written demand is going to be an exhibit to your petition to instruct the trustee to provide a copy of the trust.  Knowing this, make your demand:

  • Clear
  • Direct
  • Easy to understand
  • Provide your contact information
  • Don’t make any threats

Going to Court

Your trustee has 60 days to send you the trust and its amendments after you have made your written demand.  In the example above, the first part of the letter is its date.  Make sure you date your demand letter, so it is clear when the 60-day period starts and ends.

When those 60 days have elapsed, your written demand and the trustee’s failure to respond are all you need to have your attorney file a petition with the probate court.

If you are ready to start your case, then please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form. A comprehensive overview of California Probate is available here. Should you have additional questions about trust litigation, you will find plenty of useful information in our Learning Center.

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