Back to the Learning Center

By: Scott Grossman on March 25th, 2022

How to Get a Copy of a Trust

Dealing with the loss of a loved one or family member and the hardships and hold-ups of receiving a copy of Trust can be some of the most confusing moments of your life. The uncertainty of not knowing where to start can make some of the most trying times even more frustrating.

Here at The Grossman Law Firm, we have been helping and guiding our clients to receive a copy of the Trust for over twenty years. No matter the obstacle, we will try our hardest to get a copy of the Trust from your Trustee. And if we can assist you with our expertise in trust litigation, probate, and probate litigation, the Grossman Law Firm can assure you, that we will try and make the process as painless as possible.   

In this article and the video below, we will answer any questions you may have about obtaining a trust document. And help and guide you to securing a copy of the Trust, who can get a copy, and the process moving forward if you are or are not the beneficiaries or heirs of the Trust. 

Guide: Overview of California Trust Litigation

How to Get a Copy of a Trust 

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 do not receive a copy of the Trust within 60 days of making your written demand, file a petition with the probate court.

Is a Trustee Required to Provide a Copy of the Trust?

In this instance, one of the roles of a trustee of a trust is they must provide a copy of the Trust. A trustee is required to send a copy of the Trust and its amendments, if there are any 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. There are two exceptions to this rule: 

  1. To revoke a trust means if the settlor is still alive and mentally competent, the Trustee does not have to provide a copy of the Trust to a beneficiary who requests it.
  2. The beneficiary and Trustee are the same individuals.

Who is Entitled to Receive a Copy of the Trust?

Anyone listed as a trust beneficiary will be entitled to receive a copy of the Trust. Additionally, an heir of the settlor is entitled to a copy of the Trust. When an heir’s told, they are disinherited, receiving a copy of the Trust is particularly important. Some trustees will use this as an excuse not to provide a copy of the Trust. That is prohibited. An heir written out of the Trust must have a copy of the Trust to determine whether to file a trust contest.

Heirship is also significant because it will limit who can obtain a copy. An heir is someone married or biologically related to the settlor. Their children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, parents, nieces, and nephews are all potential heirs. And friends, neighbors, and in-laws are not heirs. And while they may be able to help an heir, they do not have a right to get a copy of the Trust for themselves.

What is the Best Way to Get a Copy of a 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, you won’t need to make a written demand. But if your Trustee is not doing their job, that might be why you are reading this article. 

In that case, we need to 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 request may prompt a 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.

Is a Trustee’s Notice 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 must send a notification telling you there has been a change of Trustee when a trust, or a portion of a trust, becomes irrevocable after the death of a settlor. The Trustee must send a notice to each trust beneficiary and heir of the settlor. The notice must be sent within 60 days of the settlor’s death and must inform you of the following:

  • The identity of the settlor(s) and the date of origin for the Trust
  • Name, address, and telephone number of each Trustee
  • The address for the physical location where the principal place of trust administration’s located
  • Notification that the beneficiary or heir is entitled, upon reasonable demand to the Trustee, to receive a true and complete copy of the terms of the Trust

If you read closely, you will see that the Trustee is not required to send out a copy of the Trust with the notice. In some situations, a trustee will send a copy on their own. Then your problem is solved. If the Trustee does not send a copy of the Trust, 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 does not 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

What you should know before going to court

Your Trustee has 60 days to send you the Trust and its amendments after you have made your written demand. As shown in the example above, the first part of the letter is its date. And be sure you date your demand letter, so it is apparent 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.

We recognize and empathize with our clients and the distress of having to obtain a copy of Trust and at the same time, dealing with the death of a loved one. And that is why it is so important to learn about proper Trust Administration. 

Please review our articles on the Beneficiary’s Rights in CaliforniaSuccessor Trustee Tax-Related Duties, and Removing a Trustee in California. If you would still like some more information on Trust Litigation and removing a trustee, check out our complete Overview of California Trust Litigation, available on our website. And if you have more questions about your rights as a Beneficiary and what you should know moving forward.

If are you still having trouble, have any questions, or want to talk to someone about your case, please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form.

If this aligns with what’s happening to you, it’s best to reach out as soon as possible. The longer you take, the more damage your Trust could take. Please call us at (888) 443-6590, and we would be more than happy to see if we can assist you.