No will, no trust, no plan of estate assets distribution. No designation of estate representative. The state steps in and intestacy rules apply. For many, this is not the preferred outcome.
On the other hand, situations arise where there is strong evidence that a trust exists even if a copy of it cannot be found. If this is the case, what do you do?
Start with looking at ownership documents. Look at title to real property. You may find that the title to your relative’s property is in her trust’s name. Here’s an example:
Your relative’s name is Daisy Flowers. Daisy lived in San Francisco on California Street. You learn by a title search that Daisy’s house in San Francisco was in the name of the “Flowers Trust; Daisy Flowers, Trustee.” You look at the deed that conveyed the home into the Flowers trust and identify both the notary and the person who requested the deed’s recordation.
You might find that an attorney was the requesting party. You’ll be able to identify the notary and with a little sleuthing maybe even the notary’s employer. The notary may have worked for an attorney – an attorney who prepared the trust. You don’t need to stop here.
Did Daisy hold any bank accounts in the name of her trust? If so, a copy of the trust might have been given to the bank. The bank might be able to identify the employee who reviewed the trust, and that employee might be able to identify the trustee, successor trustee, and beneficiaries of the trust.
After gathering this information, you may hire an attorney to file a petition for instructions from the probate court. California Probate Code Section 17000(b)(1) allows for this. You will seek the appointment of a trustee and a determination as to the beneficiaries. Supporting declarations may be possible in support of the court petition.
All is not necessarily lost. You may gather evidence that supports the identification of the beneficiaries. What did Daisy tell her likely beneficiaries?
“I’m going to take care of you…you’ll have nothing to worry about…I always wanted this house to be yours…”
You get the idea. If you believe that you know who the attorney is and the attorney won’t provide you with a copy of the trust, you can file a petition to compel a copy of the instrument. California Probate Code Section 16061.5 entitles heirs and beneficiaries to receive a copy of the trust instrument once the trust becomes irrevocable. Daisy’s death makes the trust irrevocable.
We’ve chased down more than one trust this way. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the trustee is hiding out. We’ve hired private investigators to find whoever it is that’s hiding out.
I hope that I’ve given you a few ideas as to what to do with a “trust gone missing.” Our law firm, Hackard Law, represents out of country, out of state, and California clients in California’s Superior Court system in matters related to trusts, estates and elder financial abuse.
We focus on California’s largest urban areas, including Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Sacramento Counties. We litigate significant cases where we think we can make a substantial difference and there is a wrongdoer who can be made financially accountable for their wrongdoing.
If you’d like to speak with us about your case, call us at 916 313-3030.