Trustee duties: Notifying the beneficiaries
If you’ve been named as trustee for the trust of someone who has died (the decedent), one of your first duties is to notify the relevant parties. The purpose of the notice is to bring the beneficiaries and heirs up to speed, give them a chance to review the terms of the trust, and provide a period during which they can contest its terms if they decide to do so. Failure to send notice can result in legal liability for any damages caused.
The specific requirements and rules for sending notice in these circumstances is found in Probate Code Section 16061.7. The following is an overview of what is involved.
What information must be included in the notice?
In California, there are several specific items that must be included in the notice:
- The identity of the settlor or settlors of the trust (the “settlor” is the person who created the trust), as well as the date of the trust’s execution
- Contact information: name, mailing address, and telephone number of each trustee
- The address of the principal place of trust administration
- Any other information expressly required by the trust
- A notification that the notice recipient is entitled, upon reasonable request, to get a copy of the terms of the trust
- A separate paragraph warning in at least 10-point boldface type (or reasonable equivalent) that says:
“You may not bring an action to contest the trust more than 120 days from the date this notification by the trustee is served upon you or 60 days from the date on which a copy of the terms of the trust is mailed or personally delivered to you during that 120-day period, whichever is later.”
A trustee is in a fiduciary relationship (one of high trust and confidence) with the beneficiaries. One of the corresponding legal duties is to keep the beneficiaries “reasonably informed.” Sending this notice to the trustees helps fulfill that responsibility.
Who should receive notice?
Notice should be sent to the beneficiaries of the trust, as well as the heirs of the decedent. “Beneficiaries” refers to those specifically named in the trust. “Heirs” refers to a person’s legal heirs, i.e., those that would inherit property if there was no will or trust (these are laid out in California’s laws of intestacy). If it’s a charitable trust, notice must be sent to the Attorney General.
The trustee is not obligated to send notice to a beneficiary or heir who is unknown or who cannot be located after reasonable diligence.
What is the timeframe for sending notice?
Notice must be mailed or delivered within 60 days of the death of the settlor, or within 60 days after the trustee learns of the existence of someone entitled to notice. Once notice is mailed or delivered, the recipients have 120 days to contest the trust in court (or 60 days from the time of mailing or delivering the terms of the trust during that 120 day period, whichever is later).
The notice requirements for trust administration can be complicated, and there are several very specific rules for carrying them out properly. Additionally, there are other times when notice is required (such as after a change of trustee). The above information is only an overview. If you are the trustee for a decedent’s trust, you should consider talking to an attorney who can help with the process.
Helix Law Firm can help with trust administration
At Helix Law Firm, we can take the burden of trust administration off your shoulders. We can help make sure the rules are followed, keep up with deadlines, and communicate with beneficiaries on your behalf. If you are a beneficiary, we can help make sure your interests are protected.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.