Throughout the years, we have helped clients who believed that they were not getting their fair share of an estate or their family’s personal belongings. Unfortunately, even dealing with family, sometimes especially when dealing with family, when money or material possessions are at stake, arguments arise.  If you believe that you have been named a beneficiary in a trust or will, what can you do to make sure you get your fair share?

Revocable Trusts and Irrevocable Trusts are private documents, which is one of the major benefits they provide.  That means that these documents are not filed with any court when the document is signed or when the grantor (creator) of the trust passes away.  This is the main difference between a trust and a will, which must be filed with the county clerk of the court within a certain number of days from the death of the creator of the will.  Clients like the privacy aspect of trusts.  Unless they are contested, trusts are never filed with any court or records office.

The first thing you should do if you believe you should be inheriting assets from a loved one’s estate is to find out who was named the successor trustee in the trust.  That is the person who is in control of the trust assets once the grantor, or the owner, passes away.  Once we determine who the successor trustee is, we can contact that person and request a copy of the trust.  The takeaway here is that under Illinois law, if you are named as a beneficiary of a trust, you are legally entitled to a copy of the trust document.  Once we get a copy of the trust document, we can determine what the successor trustee should be doing, and demand an inventory, or a breakdown of the estate distributions.   Legally, the successor trustee must keep a detailed breakdown of all the assets and distributions they will be making.

Of course, the inverse of all of this is also true.  If you are not named as a beneficiary in the trust, the trustee does not have to give you a copy of the trust, nor does he have to inform you of the trust assets or distributions.

If you are the one completing the estate plan and believe there may be infighting among your beneficiaries once you pass, we recommend informing the people who you are leaving assets to that they should expect a distribution after you pass. However, making those notifications prior to death can sometimes cause more harm than good during your lifetime (imagine hurt feelings, anger, etc. depending on your distribution schedule), so only you can decide whether the risk of harm outweighs the benefit of transparency.

Whenever there is a disagreement regarding the distribution of a trust estate, there is potential for a long and costly legal battle.  The amount at stake must be a leading factor in how far you are willing to fight for what you believe is rightfully yours.  In our experience with trust administration, anytime a disagreement can be resolved without litigation everyone is better for it.  However, that option is not always an option when dealing with some parties or family members. If you need help with going over a trust please contact my law office and let us go to work for you.