Trust beneficiaries have several options for discovering trust information. In our last post, we examined some of the more important questions asked by Texas trust beneficiaries. As you may remember, most important trust information is kept by the trustee. Now, we turn to the ways you can find answers from the trustee or from other sources.
–Written requests by beneficiary. In most scenarios, you should start by emailing or texting the trustee and directly ask for the information you’re seeking. Be sure to preserve a careful record of your requests, as they’ll likely become important later. You may need to make multiple requests, in case the trustee misplaced or forgot your request. If the trustee repeatedly ignores your requests or outright refuses to answer them, then you may need to engage a trust lawyer.
–Formal written request from counsel. The next step is engaging an attorney to represent your interests as a beneficiary. Trustees tend to treat formal letters from attorneys much more seriously than requests from beneficiaries. Your trust attorney should be able to adjust the tone of the requests if the trustee continues to ignore or refuse your requests. Trustees owe a fiduciary duty of communication to trust beneficiaries. This duty becomes more difficult to ignore when a trust attorney asserts it.
–Request for accounting. You may need to ask the trustee for a formal accounting under certain circumstances. All trust beneficiaries have a right to request and receive a trust accounting, which sets out in detail the contents of the trust and all activity involving trust property. The trustee must swear to the accuracy of the accounting under penalty of perjury. There is a serious downside to this approach, however. A trustee who acts in good faith can use trust funds to pay for the cost of the accounting, including the trustee’s legal fees. As you may expect, these costs can run quite high. Your trust attorney can help you decide whether you should request an accounting and explain the various benefits and downsides.
–Lawsuit to compel accounting. The trustee may ignore or refuse a beneficiary’s request for accounting for various reasons. Texas law, however, cares little for the trustee’s excuses. If the trustee misses their deadline to provide a properly requested accounting, Texas law authorizes beneficiaries to file a lawsuit against the trustee to compel the accounting. We encourage you to discuss this type of lawsuit with your trust lawyer, who can help you assess the whether this is the right move for your situation.
–Public deed records search. Each Texas county maintains public records for deeds and other filings related to real property (for example, land and minerals) located in that county. Your county recorder’s office keeps physical copies those documents. Sometimes the records are available online, often for a fee. You may be able to find out whether real property is currently or has ever been titled to your trust. Your trust counsel can assist with making a proper search for these records.
–Probate court proceedings. Sometimes, the trust agreement is found within a last will and testament, rather than existing as a separate document. This type of trust is called a testamentary trust. If someone filed for probate of the will containing the testamentary trust, you can find that will in the probate court records of the county where the will was probated. In this limited circumstance, you may be able to discover the trust agreement with minimal effort.
Let’s say your efforts were successful. What happens after you get the information you seek? To your shock and disappointment, the trust records may show that trust funds were siphoned off for improper purposes or perhaps stolen outright. Texas trust attorneys have several tools for righting these wrongs. We discuss these tools and more in our next post.
If you need help requesting trust information, we encourage you to speak with our Dallas, Texas trust attorneys. The Johnson Firm’s trust lawyers can help you extract the information you seek and assess whether serious legal action is necessary. We’re here, ready, and willing to engage with trust beneficiary clients in North, South, Central, East, and West Texas.