One of the most common questions about estate planning trusts is who has the right to receive information about the trust after the deceased person that made the trust, called the settlor or trustor, has died. For example, a child of the settlor may be concerned about being disinherited or may want to know if a sibling or stepparent received an inheritance. Because estate planning trusts are administered privately rather than being subjected to the public process of
probate, it is not uncommon for heirs to want information about a decedent's trust.
So who is entitled to trust information? It is difficult to provide a general answer to this question for a few reasons. First, the laws governing trusts are state-specific. Therefore, the rules on what type of information a trustee must disclose and to whom are different from state to state. See state laws. Also, the trustee's duty to provide information and reports may be modified to some extent by the trust document. The information that must be provided about a specific settlor's trust may depend in part on how the trust was drafted.With that context in mind, this article provides an overview of the general principles that apply when a beneficiary or heir makes a request for information about a trust to the trustee. There are several factors that typically must be considered when trying to determine whether someone has a right to get information about a deceased person's trust. These factors include:
1. The legal status of the person requesting such information. For example, is the person a current beneficiary, qualified beneficiary, nonqualified beneficiary, contingent beneficiary or remainderman of the trust? Whether the person is a surviving spouse or legal heir of the deceased may also be a factor, depending on the state. In some circumstances, the age a beneficiary has attained is also a factor. These factors may be used to help determine whether such person is entitled to receive information about the trust and what type of information they are entitled to receive.The laws of many states require a trustee to provide certain information to a beneficiary upon request. Also, depending on the state, different types of beneficiaries may be treated differently under a trust in terms of the right to information. Qualified beneficiaries are generally granted the right to more information than nonqualified beneficiaries or beneficiaries that have a future rather than a present interest. See Section 813 a. of the Uniform Trust Code which states, "A trustee shall keep the qualified beneficiaries of the trust reasonably informed about the administration of the trust and of the material facts necessary for them to protect their interests."
2. The laws of the state where the trust is administered. The type of information a trustee has a duty to provide about a trust is typically set forth in applicable state laws. Because trust laws differ substantially from state to state on this issue, the right to receive information about a trust varies depending on the jurisdiction. To determine the rights of beneficiaries and heirs, it is necessary to examine state statutes as well as common law applicable to the trust. Also, the date the trust was established may be important in determining which laws apply. For help finding the laws that apply to trusts, go to
Trust Law and
Trust Law Sources.
3. The terms of the trust instrument. When the trust was made, the settlor may have included language in the trust document outlining how information about the trust should be handled. The settlor may have included language to limit or restrict the information a trustee has a duty to provide. In some states, the law allows a settlor to modify or waive the trustee's duty to provide certain information about the trust to beneficiaries. See
Silent Trusts. However, such limitations on disclosure of trust information must be considered in light of applicable law. Trust laws in many states do not allow certain trustee duties to be modified or waived by the settlor. If you believe the trust document limits a beneficiary's right to information about the trust in a way that violates state law, consult an attorney.
Can Disinherited Heir Get Information About Decedent's Trust?
If you are an heir, surviving spouse, beneficiary or new trustee, you may have questions about who has a right to information about a decedent's trust. There are several reasons heirs and beneficiaries request information about a trust during trust administration. One of the primary reasons is to protect an interest in trust property. Beneficiaries may also need information to enforce their rights under the trust or prevent a breach of the trust.In most states, the right to obtain information about a trust is typically reserved for beneficiaries. One of the primary features of estate planning trusts is privacy. Therefore, information about a trust is not usually made public, unlike a will. As a result, a child that was disinherited by the settlor may have a very difficult time learning about the existence of the trust or its provisions.In most states, heirs that are not beneficiaries of a decedent's trust are not entitled to receive information about the trust. But there are exceptions. California and Pennsylvania are a few examples. Because each state adopts its own laws regarding trusts and state trust laws have been changing frequently in recent years, it is not possible to provide a general answer about the rights of heirs in this article. However, one example of a state that provides heirs greater rights to trust information is California.In California, there is a notice requirement which specifies the trustee must give written notice to all beneficiaries and to each heir of the decedent. The notice must indicate that the recipient is entitled to request from the trustee and receive a complete copy of the terms of the trust. See California Probate Code 16061.7. Pennsylvania has a similar statute which requires the trustee to send notice to children of the settlor of the right to request and receive a copy of the trust instrument. See 20 Pa. C.S. 7780.3. In many other states, the right to receive a copy of the trust document is limited to beneficiaries and in some states, interested persons. Many state statutes provide that only qualified beneficiaries have the right to obtain information about the trust. To find trust laws for a particular state, view the list of state statutes on our
trust law page.
Is Trustee Required to Provide Information?
After the death of the settlor, the trustee may be contacted by heirs and beneficiaries seeking information about the deceased person's trust. The trustee may be asked to provide information such as what type of
inheritance or income such individuals will receive from the trust, when trust distributions will be made, what property owned by the decedent is part of the trust, whether assets in the trust will be sold, etc. During
trust administration, the trustee may also receive requests for information about the value of trust assets, the performance of trust investments, how certain aspects of the trust are being handled, what the trustee is being paid, and similar types of information.
Other items a trustee may be asked to provide include:
1. A copy of the trust document; 2. An annual reporting for the trust; 3. A Trust Accounting; and 4. Material facts about the trust.
Although trustees of irrevocable trusts typically have certain duties to inform and report to beneficiaries without being prompted to do so by a beneficiary, this article focuses on what a trustee is required to do if the trustee is contacted by a beneficiary or heir of the settlor with a request for information.A trustee should follow applicable state laws and abide by the terms of the trust document when determining what information to disclose and to whom. Depending on applicable law, a trustee may be required to provide information, reports or documents to a beneficiary of the trust in response to a request even if the trustee would not be required to supply it in the absence of such request. If a trustee receives such a request from a beneficiary, the trustee needs to quickly determine how to handle the request in accordance with the law. Other considerations may include avoiding a dispute with beneficiaries and minimizing litigation risk.When determining what information to provide about a trust, it may be prudent for trustees to consider: a. whether the individual requesting such information has a right to receive information about the trust; b. whether the individual is entitled to receive the specific type of information requested; c. the time period when such information should be provided; d. Whether providing the information will minimize trustee liability or litigation risk because of its impact on the statute of limitations; and e. whether providing the information requested is consistent with the trustee's fiduciary duty.
When deciding whether the individual has a right to the requested information about the trust, the trustee should have an attorney review applicable state statutes, such as the state trust code, any relevant common law, as well as the trust document. However, in some circumstances, the trustee may have discretion whether to provide information about the trust. The trustee should make the decision about disclosure of trust information carefully because such requests often lead to
will and trust disputes. In addition, trustees need to be aware that failure to handle requests for information properly could result in trustee liability. To avoid being sued by a person that has an interest in the trust, trustees should consult an attorney when evaluating requests for information.
A trustee that does not adhere to the fiduciary duties that apply when administering a trust may be held personally liable. To learn about the duties of a trustee, see our page
It can be difficult for trustees to determine who has a right to receive information about the trust. But it can be even more challenging to figure about what type of information a trustee is required to provide and when. Successor trustees or first-time trustees should be particularly careful about disclosing information if they do not have experience in trust administration. If you are a new trustee and are not familiar with the types of notices, reports, and other items you are required to provide during administration of the trust and the time frames in which they must be provided, consult an attorney immediately.
The best step a trustee can take before releasing any trust information or documents is to consult an attorney for guidance about trustee duties. An experienced lawyer can help new trustees avoid costly mistakes and errors during the administration of a trust. To get legal help, go to
finding an attorney.
Note: This article only addresses the right to obtain information about irrevocable trusts, including trusts that were originally revocable trusts but became irrevocable upon the death of the settlor, or became irrevocable for some other reason. This article does not discuss the right to receive information about revocable living trusts in which the settlor is still living or other types of revocable trusts that may be revoked during the lifetime of the settlor. Also, this article does not address the rights of creditors. These matters are outside the scope of this article.
Trust Beneficiary Release
If you are a new trustee or successor trustee, you may not be familiar with steps you can take to limit liability. It can be beneficial for a trustee to have beneficiaries sign documents such as a release, waiver or consent when certain items are provided. For an overview of how these forms may be used during trust administration, go to
trust beneficiary release.
If Trustee Has Denied Your Request For Information About a Trust
Any request for information or documents should be made in writing to the trustee. Retain copies of your request, along with documentation that the request was sent and received. If you only make a request by telephone or orally, you will not have the necessary documentation to show that you made a request to the trustee.If the trustee has denied your request for information about a deceased person's trust and you believe you are entitled to such information, the next step is to consult an attorney about your legal rights. If you are a beneficiary of the trust, an heir of the settlor or have an interest in property held in the trust, an attorney can advise whether you can make a valid claim to obtain the requested information. For information on the type of attorney that handles these claims, go to
probate lawyer.Sometimes trustees provide notice or information about a trust to heirs that are non-beneficiaries because it may reduce the amount of time for claims to be filed under the applicable statute of limitations. In these situations, an heir may receive information from the trustee even though it is not required. The terms of the trust document may also address what types of information should be disclosed by the trustee.If you are an heir and want to contest a decedent's trust, be aware you have a limited amount of time to dispute a trust. See
contesting a will. Consult a lawyer about your legal rights and the statute of limitations.