A beneficiary or heir doesn’t automatically get a copy of a trust. Each beneficiary and heir is entitled to notice when a trust settlor dies and/or there is a change of trustee. Once the beneficiary or heir asks, in writing, for a copy of the trust then the trustee must provide a copy of the trust and all of its amendments within sixty days.
Once those sixty days have run, the beneficiary can petition the probate court to compel the trustee to provide a copy of the trust and its amendments. The beneficiary can also ask for attorney’s fees and court costs for having to file the petition. California law does not put any cap on the attorney’s fees and costs. This means the longer the trustee fights to be provided a copy of the trust, the more it will cost the trustee when he or she loses. Whatever amount the court awards for fees and costs is payable by the trustee personally. The trustee can’t use trust funds to pay.
The trust instrument determines the nature and scope of a trustee’s duty to account and report [Prob. Code §§ 16061, 16062]. The trust instrument may expand, restrict, or waive the duty to account and report, subject to certain restrictions. It is important to note that although the trust instrument may waive a trustee’s general duty to account when the trustee is not a disqualified person, a trustee nonetheless may be compelled to account “upon a showing that it is reasonably likely that a material breach of the trust has occurred” [Prob. Code § 16064(a)]. As such, a trustee cannot rely upon exculpatory language in the trust instrument to refuse to account to a beneficiary.
If you have cause for an Elder Abuse claim, you may file a Petition to Remove the trustee and/or ask for an accounting of the Trust. Otherwise, the first task the practitioner must undertake when representing a beneficiary is to review the trust instrument to determine whether the trustee owes a general duty to account or report, as well as the scope of that duty.
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