Once your position as a beneficiary of an irrevocable trust (after your loved one passes and their revocable trust becomes irrevocable, for example) vests, you have the right to receive a copy of the trust documents. The trust document operates like a contract and will spell out your rights and the trustee’s obligations, as supplemented by their duties at law.
To become a vested beneficiary, you must have a right to receive some benefit under the terms of the trust, whether currently or at some point in the future, as in the case of a presumptive or contingent beneficiary who may become direct beneficiaries some day, after some condition is met, but have no present interest in the trust.
In the case of a revocable living trust, which is commonly used for estate planning purposes, beneficiaries become vested beneficiaries only upon the grantor’s death. This way, the grantor can amend or revoke the trust at any time before their death.
For a revocable living trust, the beneficiaries are all contingent upon the death of the grantor and lack the right to see the trust until the grantor passes. Once that occurs, the successor trustee takes control of the trust and its property listed in the document. The successor trustee must then provide a copy of the terms to all direct beneficiaries.
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Are Beneficiaries Entitled to a Copy of the Estate Accounts?
As equitable owners of the trust assets and accounts, direct beneficiaries are entitled to an accounting from the trustee. A good, responsive trustee will compile an accounting soon after the grantor’s death.
First, the trustee needs to understand the extent of the trust’s assets and ensure they have access to the accounts. Second, the trustee should share this accounting with all beneficiaries.
An estate accounting should contain at least the following information:
- All the assets which were transferred to the trust upon the grantor’s death.
- Any income that has been generated by the assets (rent, interest, dividends, etc.)
- A description of all the trust’s expenditures.
- A listing of unpaid debts or creditor claims on the trust property (such as a mortgage).
- An outline of how the trustee will begin distributions or sales of trust assets before distributions.
Many revocable living trusts will explicitly include instructions for the trustee to compile an estate accounting, what to include, and how soon it should be created and shared with beneficiaries.
After the initial estate accounting, the trustee should keep beneficiaries informed periodically. While a revocable living trust should have all its assets wound down and distributed relatively quickly, some assets or trusts are more complicated. At the least, updated accountings should be provided after selling significant assets or making partial distributions.
Can a Beneficiary Ask To See a Bank Statement?
Beneficiaries of a revocable living trust can always request to see a trust’s bank statements. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to manage trust assets on behalf of the beneficiaries, and reviewing bank statements can quickly confirm good stewardship.
However, there is typically no right for a beneficiary to demand a bank statement from a trustee. It may be unreasonable to expect weekly or monthly updates, especially for more complex trusts. A trustee should attempt to maintain open and forthright communication with beneficiaries. But unless there is a strong suspicion of wrongdoing by the trustee, beneficiaries badgering them for constant updates can be counterproductive.
As an interested party, you have the right to compel an estate accounting from a reluctant trustee. If you believe a trustee is withholding information from you and other beneficiaries, you have options. First, you should consider speaking with an experienced trust litigation attorney about what is happening and whether your requests are reasonable.
Interested parties can include beneficiaries, as well as creditors or other persons interested in the trust’s property. Any of them can formally request that the trustee create and distribute an estate accounting to ensure proper management. In some cases, the estate accounting can be compelled through court action. This often occurs once someone has challenged the actions of a trustee or alleged they breached their fiduciary duty.
A trust litigation lawyer can advise you on how to compel an estate accounting if a trustee has been reluctant to provide one. They can also help you prepare a lawsuit to remove a trustee to prevent further damage to the trust’s property or ensure adequate distribution of its assets.
Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.
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Can Trustees Be Held Personally Liable?
The Trustee’s Guide to Trust Distributions
The Trustee’s Guide to Avoiding Trustee Removal
The Guide to Breach of Fiduciary Duty and Abuse
About RMO, LLP
RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn, has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com.