Q&A: Living trust viewing restrictions

Dear Liz: How in the world do I find out the details of my parents’ trust? My father recently died and my mother, who is 89, is not familiar with the details. My older sister is not responsive when I ask questions. She and I are the only children. My husband recently became disabled and it would be a comfort to know if we had any money coming from my parents. Can you give me any advice?

Answer: Presumably you’re asking about a living trust, which is designed to avoid probate, the court process that otherwise follows death. Unlike wills, living trusts don’t have to be filed with the courts so you can’t go down to the county courthouse to look up the details.

Living trusts are revocable trusts, which means they can be changed. People other than the trust creators don’t typically have a right to see the trust until it becomes irrevocable.

In the past, part of a living trust often became irrevocable when one spouse died. Today, it’s more common for trusts to remain revocable until the surviving spouse dies.

To some extent, state law determines who gets to see a copy of the trust once it’s irrevocable. Typically beneficiaries have a right to see the trust, and in some states (including California) so do “heirs at law” — people who aren’t beneficiaries but who would have inherited under state law if there had been no trust or will.

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