How to Locate Lost Trust Documents and What Happens When You Lose Them
It is not uncommon for documents to go missing. Even the most organized individual can misplace or forget where they stored essential paperwork. If you have changed residences or changed locations of the files, it’s easy for things to be forgotten, lost, or sometimes thrown out.
If your lost paperwork happens to be the only copy of your Revocable Living Trust, you may find yourself in a state of panic. The trust document is of the utmost importance; they spell out exactly how you want your assets handled while you are living and, most importantly, after you leave this world.
Having gone through the process of setting up a trust account, to realize you have misplaced these crucial documents can be unsettling. However, there is no need to panic. Finding the documents might take a few extra steps, but it can be done. Here is some important information on how to find trust documents that have been lost.
What is a Trust?
A Revocable Living Trust is a legally binding document that explains in detail the management, control, and distribution of a person’s property during their life and after their death. Since situations may change throughout a person’s life, the Trust is revocable to allow for modifications. The Creator of the Trust, or Trustor, maintains ownership of the Trust until their death. The same person may also be the trustee or the person who manages the trust.
A trust is used to transfer a person’s assets and property to a beneficiary or their heir after someone’s death without having to deal with probate court. It is often created as part of an estate plan. The beneficiary or heir becomes the new trustee of the trust. The probate system is designed to settle Wills, Trusts, Conservatorships, and Guardianships. The system is very time-consuming and expensive.
If your estate ends up in probate court, trustees and beneficiaries could be stuck in court for months as the court decides how the assets will be distributed. The purpose of the trust is to ensure your heirs receive what they are entitled to without going through probate in the first place. If you have a copy of a trust agreement, you can avoid the probate process.
How to Find Your Lost Documents
If you hired a law firm or individual attorney to prepare your trust, your first step would be to contact them with a written request to obtain a copy. The attorney or firm should have a copy of the trust document on file. Hopefully, locating the trust would be this simple for the trustee, but in many cases, it is not. So further research would have to be done.
Contacting your financial institution’s trust department can also help find lost trust documents. You might need to pressure them to comply and provide any paperwork you may have filed through a demand letter. The search should be easy if you have the name of the trust. But if you can’t remember the name of the trust, you can give them your name and social security number. A search should return any paperwork or accounts you have given tothe institution.
If you have tried these steps and still have a failure to locate your trust documents, or you can’t remember where you placed them for safe keeping, remember that a Living Trust is revocable. That means you can simply have your attorney’s office revoke the original Trust and establish a new one. By legal standards, you can only have one set of Trust Documents. If you find the old Trust documents after a new set has been created, the older set is considered revoked, and the new set is the legal document. Once the new one is complete, it is a good idea to take extra steps to prevent the same situation from happening again.
When You Can’t Find Trust Documents Left by a Deceased Relative
The beneficiaries of a trust may find it difficult to obtain the trust agreement and find out who is entitled to the contents of the trust. Trust documents are never entered into the public record. So, finding a copy of the trust agreement could prove challenging if a deceased relative didn’t leave instructions on how to access the documents before their death.
Typically, when someone creates a living trust, they are the only ones with access to the documents. Trust paperwork is considered private and never entered into public records even when a trust holder has passed away. The courts have no idea what is included in the paperwork; therefore, loved ones have few options when trying to secure the records if they don’t have a copy of a trust agreement.
Contacting the Deceased Person’s Attorney
The deceased person’s lawyer is the first contact on your list when searching for missing trust paperwork. You may need to write a letter to petition for access to this paperwork. By law, the firm that drafted the trust must notify any beneficiaries named in the paperwork upon their client’s death. They cannot refuse to divulge this information. However, if the attorney doesn’t have good information such as current addresses and phone numbers or email accounts for all the beneficiaries, it may be up to you to reach out to their office to gain access to the original trust documents.
If you can’t locate the paperwork on your own, you can always hope that the deceased shared a copy of the documents with a loved one they trusted. They could have a copy of the trust or possibly were allowed to read the original, or someone may have told them the contents. Checking with a family member or friends is the best place to start looking to obtain a copy of the document. They may be able to assist you with your search.
If you have spoken to relatives and possibly the deceased loved one’s attorney about obtaining these documents and still not come any closer to locating the paperwork, the next step is to try probate court. In this case, family members who may have seen or read the missing trust may be able to provide testimony as to its content.
The probate court will then decide how the estate assets will be distributed to its beneficiaries without a copy of the trust. Setting up a living trust is the best way to keep your family from having to endure such a process and ensure that they have an adequate trust share according to your wishes.
Who is Entitled to See Trust Documents?
Unlike a will, which is a matter of public record once the courts have filed it, paperwork about a Revocable Living Trust are not filed and therefore are not open to public viewing. Only a few people have the right to view a copy of the trust documents or to request access.
If the trust’s creator named you the Successor Trustee, you would have the right to access any files related to the trust. You are also responsible for settling the trust per the creator’s wishes as the trustee. Beneficiaries of the trust also have the right to any information contained therein, as are the attorney and accountant of the financial advisor of the trust’s creator.
Some states allow beneficiaries who have been removed from the trust to obtain information or view the files with a court order even though they aren’t the trustee. If you are unsure whether you are a named beneficiary on a loved one’s trust, you can try contacting the creator’s attorney or financial advisor. They may be able to help if you are, in fact, an eligible person with rights to the information. At the very least, they may be able to give you the name of the Successor Trustee.
Challenging a Trust
Beneficiaries and those you may have left out of the trust can challenge it in court, similar to how they would challenge a deceased relative’s will for their inheritance. If your trust is set up appropriately, the challengers’ options for a trust contest can be limited when they take it to court. Having an attorney help draft your trust is an excellent idea to ensure that your final wishes are carried out without incident after you are gone and the appropriate person is named the new trustee.
Protecting Your Documents
Whether you draft a trust for the first time or rewrite it after you have revoked or lost the first one, keeping the original documents safe is the sole responsibility of the Trustor. Once the paperwork is finalized, having your attorney keep a copy of the trust is a great idea. Making several copies will help ensure that the document isn’t lost.
Giving your accountant or financial institution a copy of the trust would be another step in protecting them. As for your family, the decision is up to you who receives a copy of the papers. To avoid disputes about the contents, some Trustors choose to give only one copy of the trust to the person they have named Successor Trustee. Some go a step further and only reveal the location of the documents or ways to find them even to the Successor Trustee.
You may also want to consider keeping it in a safe location that will be accessible after your death. For instance, a safe deposit box is a good location for private documents.
Setting up a Trust
Not everyone needs a trust; however, if you have assets of $100,000 or greater, If you own real estate or have valuable collections such as art, cars, or things of that nature, a trust can give you greater authority over your assets while alive and can detail how those assets are distributed once you have passed away.
A good reputable trust attorney can help you with the steps needed in drafting your trust as part of an estate plan to ensure your wishes are carried out as you continue through life and once you are gone. It protects you as the trustee and any beneficiary you designate. You can contact an estate attorney’s office to find out how to set up a trust for your estate.