While browsing Avvo.com, a legal help website, I saw a question posted asking how a person would go about getting a copy of a trust when they believe they are entitled to a distribution from that trust. This person had already asked the trustee for a copy and the trustee flat out refused their request. So, what next?
At some point in your life you may find yourself in this same position. A close friend or family member passes away, and you think there is a chance you just might be entitled to some piece of their estate. It may be something as small as a clock or piece of jewelry or it may be something as big as a house, a car, or chunk of money that could significantly change your life as you know it. Either way, if you are the beneficiary of the trust, you want to know, and you have a right to know.
Your first option for exercising this right is to rack your brain as hard as you to see if you can think of anyone you know who could potentially be beneficiary of the trust, then go to those people and ask them if they have a copy of the trust, and if they do, if they would be willing to give you a copy. If this option works, count yourself as lucky; you just avoided a huge amount headache.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to locate a beneficiary who is willing to give you a copy of the trust, then you next option is to write a letter to the trustee explaining the law to him and demanding that he send you a copy of the trust in the next thirty days or face legal action on your part. As a beneficiary of the trust, the trustee is required by law to not only send you notice that you are entitled to copy of the trust, but also, to give you an actual copy of the trust. See California Probate Code Section 16061.5 and 16061.7.
If the trustee doesn’t respond to the demand letter, you may end up having to go with option three instead. This option entails filing a petition under California Probate Code Section 17200. A 17200 Petition is a petition that is filed with the court asking them to force the trustee to give you a copy of the trust on the basis that you are a beneficiary of the trust and therefore have some interest in the deceased grantor’s estate.
Whichever option works is your best option. However, I would suggest starting with a few phone calls to any possible beneficiaries. If this doesn’t turn up anything, only then would I advise you to hire an attorney who can help you write a demand letter or a file a 17200 Petition.