Because probate in California is a time-consuming, expensive, and public process, many individuals and families utilize a trust in their estate plan. While a trust is designed to protect the estate and transfer assets to the designated beneficiaries, the trustee must faithfully execute the terms of the trust. Unfortunately, trustees frequently don’t understand their obligations and some may even engage in misconduct. This makes it crucial for trust beneficiaries to understand their rights.
At Loew Law Group, PLC, our trust and estate attorneys are dedicated to protecting the inheritance rights of our clients. Well-versed in the applicable trusts and estate laws, we know that trustee duties and beneficiary rights go hand in hand. If you have been named a beneficiary in a loved one’s trust-based estate plan and have concerns about the trustee’s activities, the sooner you contact us, the sooner we can begin protecting your beneficiary rights.
What are the rights of a beneficiary to a trust in California?
In short, beneficiary rights are governed by the California Probate Code as well as the terms of the trust. Before discussing those rights in more detail, however, it is important to point out that there are different classes of beneficiaries, “current” and “remainder” beneficiaries, each with specific rights:
- Current beneficiaries — those who are currently entitled to income from the trust
- Remainder beneficiaries — those with an interest in the trust after the current beneficiaries’ interest has ended
As an example, one spouse may establish a trust that leaves income to the surviving spouse for life (the current beneficiary) and then the remainder of the property to the children (the remainder beneficiaries). Another arrangement would be to leave the remaining property to a charity after the current beneficiary’s death in what is known as a charitable remainder trust.
In any event, beneficiaries of trusts in California have certain rights:
- Payment — Current beneficiaries have the right to distributions of income as provided by the trust document
- Right to information — Both current and remainder beneficiaries have the right to receive sufficient information about (1) the trust property, (2) how the trust is administered, and (3) how to enforce their rights
- Right to an accounting — Current beneficiaries are entitled to an accounting — a detailed report of all income, distributions, and expenses, which trustees are usually required to provide annually (recent court rulings in California have expanded the right of remainder beneficiaries to request and receive trust accountings)
- Trustee removal — Both current and remainder beneficiaries have the right to ask the court to remove the trustee if they believe the trustee isn’t acting in their best interests.
- Terminate or modify the trust — Depending on the circumstances, and if all current and remainder beneficiaries agree, the beneficiaries can ask the court to end or modify the trust (usually when the purpose of the trust has been, or cannot be, fulfilled)
In any event, balancing the needs of current and remainder beneficiaries can be challenging for a trustee. Ultimately, it is crucial for beneficiaries and trustees alike to have proper legal representation by an experienced trust and estate attorney.
Contact Our San Mateo Beneficiary Rights Attorney
Loew Law Group, PLC, is well-respected for serving clients in San Mateo, Santa Clara and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California with compassion, distinction, and integrity. We provide comprehensive estate planning services, with an emphasis on the use of living and irrevocable trusts. Our objective is to help each client achieve their wealth preservation objectives, plan for retirement, and provide for the seamless transfer of property to their designated beneficiaries through trust vehicles. In the event of disputes, our trust and estate litigation attorneys are fully prepared to enforce the rights of beneficiaries inside and outside of the courtroom.
We routinely represent current and remainder beneficiaries, including families, high net-worth individuals, and charitable beneficiaries. If you are a beneficiary and have questions about a trust or concerns about the conduct of a trustee, our beneficiary rights attorneys will take the time to understand your circumstances, explain the duties of the trustee, and how those duties relate to your rights as a beneficiary. In the event of the trustee’s mistakes or misconduct, it is possible to take civil action to protect your inheritance rights.
Knowing that disputes between beneficiaries and trustees, or among beneficiaries themselves, can be an emotional and financial burden for all of the parties, we often recommend seeking negotiated resolutions to trust disputes. At the same time, our trial attorneys have a proven track record of defending the inheritance rights of beneficiaries in the probate courts. Whether through arbitration, mediation, or litigation, you can rest assured that the trust and estate attorneys at Loew Law Group, PLC will always stand by you. If you have questions about your rights as a beneficiary to a trust in California, please contact our office for a free consultation.