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Suppose that person X has setup a living revocable trust and his or her will leaves everything to the trust. The trust controls who gets the assets after person X dies.

After some time, person X dies. Who has the right to see the living revocable trust? I am thinking the trustee of the trust does and all the beneficiaries of the trust do. Does a contingent beneficiary have the right to see the trust documents? Is there anybody else who has the right to see the trust documents?

The jurisdiction that I am interested in is the United States and in particular the state of New Jersey.

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    You probably did not intend to say "trustless of the trust". Did you mean "trustees of the trust"?
    – Henry
    Jun 6 at 14:05
  • I meant trustee of the trust.
    – Bob
    Jun 7 at 2:23

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Unlike the Last Will and Testament of a decedent, a revocable living trust that becomes irrevocable by virtue of the death of the settlor generally does not become a matter of public record at the death of the settlor.

In both New Jersey, and under the Uniform Trust Code, a beneficiary of a trust needs to be informed that they are a beneficiary of a formerly revocable trust, when the settlor of the trust dies. At common law, the majority rule was that a beneficiary only needed to be informed of the existence of the trust when there was a need to know for some reason (e.g. for tax purposes).

New Jersey law provides that:

A trustee, upon request of a beneficiary, shall promptly furnish to the beneficiary a copy of the trust instrument.

N.J.S. § 3B:31-67(b).

This has the virtue of being easy to administer. The New Jersey rule calls for slightly more disclosure that the potentially more difficult to administer majority common law rule, which is found in the unmodified provision of the Uniform Trust Code adopted unmodified in many states, which states that:

A trustee . . . Upon request of a qualified beneficiary, shall promptly furnish to the qualified beneficiary a copy of the portions of the trust instrument that describe or affect the beneficiary's interest[.]

Uniform Trust Code Section § 813(2)(a).

The Uniform Trust Code is a model statute, sponsored by American Bar Association affiliated entities, that states can adopt if they wish as state law with whatever modifications they deem fit.

Of course, there are other reasons that disclosure of the trust could be required, at least, in the event that interactions with these parties rose to the level of litigation or were necessary to make a transaction go forward.

For example, it might have to be disclosed to a financial institution in which the trust wishes to establish an account, to a title company in connection with a real estate transfer from the trust, to taxing authorities, to someone with standing to do so suing the drafter of the trust for legal malpractice, to a trust protector or legal representative of a beneficiary, to creditors of the trust or of the decedent-settlor of the trust, to a former beneficiary contesting the validity of a change to the trust, or to someone who would have inherited from the decedent if the trust had not been formed contesting the validity of the trust's formation.

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  • If I understand your answer, a contingent beneficiary who is not getting any trust assets or income does not get to see the trust documents. Do I have that right?
    – Bob
    Jun 7 at 2:29
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    @Bob No. Contingent beneficiaries are still beneficiaries of the trust.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 7 at 3:47

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