A person who stands to gain property from a trust is called a beneficiary. A beneficiary’s right to see a trust depends on a number of factors, including the type of trust, whether the person who established the trust is living or deceased, and the laws of the state in which the trust was established.
Type of Trust
Trusts are divided into two basic categories: living and testamentary. A living trust is set up while the person establishing it – the “settlor” – is still alive, while a testamentary trust is established as part of the settlor’s will. Living trusts are further categorized into revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts. The settlor of a revocable trust retains the right to change its terms or to cancel the trust during his lifetime, while a revocable trust is for the most part set in stone once it is established. Since a testamentary trust does not become effective until after the settlor’s death, it is at this point an irrevocable trust.
During the settlor’s lifetime, a beneficiary has little, if any, right to see a revocable trust. This is because the settlor retains the right to remove the beneficiary from the trust or to revoke the trust altogether; therefore, the beneficiary generally has no vested right in the trust.
At the settlor’s death, a beneficiary’s right to inherit under a revocable trust becomes fixed. At this point, the beneficiary gains certain rights, including the right to a copy of the trust as well as a right to be kept informed of the trustee’s actions in administering the trust.
The rights of a beneficiary under an irrevocable trust vest immediately regardless of whether the settlor is living or deceased. Therefore, the moment an irrevocable trust is established, a beneficiary gains the right to a copy of the trust, as well as all additional rights listed in the trust declaration and provided by state law.
The rights of trust beneficiaries are subject to laws that are highly nuanced and that vary by state. Consult an attorney to determine your individual rights.