A loved one has passed away. You know they had an estate plan that included a living trust. You believe you were one of the beneficiaries of that trust or they told you that you were. Do you have a right to see it now that they’ve passed away?

The person who will be settling the trust is the successor trustee. That’s the person named to take over as trustee when the initial trustee (the person who established the trust) passes away. The successor trustee will likely be working with the attorney for the estate to ensure that the distributions are made to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the trust.

If you are one of the named beneficiaries who’s entitled to assets or income from the trust, you have the right to receive a copy of the trust.

The attorney may decide that heirs of the deceased person who were not included as beneficiaries should also see the trust. They may be less likely to contest the document in court if they can see for themselves that their family member didn’t include them, but left their money to other people or perhaps charitable organizations.

There’s no guarantee that they won’t still try to claim that their family member wasn’t unduly influenced or coerced into leaving their assets to others or that they weren’t of sound mind. However, this transparency can minimize the chances of a legal battle.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the California Franchise Tax Board will need to see a copy of the trust when the taxes for the estate are filed. However, for the most part, a trust is a more private document than a will. A will becomes public record because it has to go through probate. A trust doesn’t have to. That makes it more difficult for “friends” and others who knew the decedent to come out of the woodwork to claim that your loved one intended to include them but for some reason didn’t.

If you’re a successor trustee who’s managing a deceased loved one’s affairs, consult with the decedent’s attorney or, if they’re no longer available, consult an experienced estate planning attorney. If your loved one passed away and the trustee isn’t providing you with a copy of the trust or is merely telling you what’s in it, it’s essential to know your rights under California probate laws.