When your parents create a revocable Trust, they don’t have to tell you about it. And if they change the Trust terms to either give you more or less, they don’t have to tell you that either. Often people will find out about a change to their parent’s Trust after the parent passes and ask, “why wasn’t I told about this change when it happened?” The short answer is, you have no right to be told.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be told. Parents have the right to tell their children of changes to the Trust if they choose to do so. The problem is that many estate planning lawyers, the people who draft the Trust and Will documents, advise against it. We did the same back when we used to prepare estate planning documents. Why? Fear of change. When a parent creates an estate plan, they may want to change it in the future. If that happens, then it may be difficult or uncomfortable to deal with children whose shares were changed. The same is true if one child is named the successor Trustee and then the parents change it to another child at a later time.
Trusts are private documents. And during the time that a Trust can be revoked, they are nobody’s business except the people creating it. Of course, it can be painful to a child later on to find out that one child knew of the changes, and another did not. This is especially true with drastic changes—such as reducing a child’s share of the estate or removing them as a named successor Trustee.
Over time, we have changed our view on these issues. We now feel it is far better to share the Trust document and any changes made to that document with the children so that everyone knows what is happening. It can be painful at times to do so, but it is also far more painful to keep things a secret. When a child learns of a major change after a parent passes, there is no chance to discuss the change. The child often feels betrayed or cheated. Whereas, the child who knew about the change at least has the chance to talk to the parent about it if they choose to do so.
Further, secrecy leads to natural suspicion. One wonders whether the change truly reflects the parent’s intent rather than another child’s intent. If everything was above-board, then why all the secrecy when the change occurred? Hiding a change may cause far greater harm—and more litigation down the road—then just being open and honest about it when the change occurs.
In any event, a child is not required to be notified of a change to their parent’s Trust when the change occurs. That’s just the way California Trust law works. For more questions, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced Trust and Will attorneys at Albertson & Davidson.