Top 10 Myths of Trusts and Wills: Episode 1 — Are Trusts Public Documents?

This post is the first in a series of ten posts that will discuss the top 10 myths and misconceptions of trusts and wills.  There’s a lot to learn, so let’s get started on this first installment:

Is a Trust a public document?

Many times people would like to see a copy of their parents’ trust, especially after a death in the family, but how do you go about obtaining a copy?

Trusts are private documents. In fact, that is one of the selling points for doing a Trust in the first place. A Trust is not recorded with the County Recorder’s office (like a deed would be) and it is not filed with the court after death (like a Will would be). Therefore, the thought goes, a Trust remains a private document. Well that is not always the case because when there is a lawsuit involving a Trust, the Trust is filed with the court as an attachment to a court pleading. Absent a lawsuit, however, the Trust remains private.

So how do you view a Trust if it is a private document? You have to ask the Trustee for a copy of it. Or ask the person who has it to provide a copy.

What if the Trustee won’t give the Trust copy to you? You have to go to court. The court can order a Trustee, or any other person for that matter, to hand over a copy of the Trust to you. If you are a named beneficiary of the Trust, then you are entitled to a copy of it. If you are an heir-at-law of the decedent—such as a child—then you are also entitled to a copy of the Trust even if you are NOT a named beneficiary.

In other words, you probably have a right to see the Trust, but that does not mean it will be given to you easily. In many cases, it can be hard work to obtain a copy of the Trust document. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes when you are dealing with a private Trust document.