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Ask the Retirement Expert: I Am the Beneficiary of a Trust. Do I Have the Right to Know the Details?

Mark McLennon, J.D., CPA, CFP® •  July 29, 2016 | Your Finances, Home and Family, Ask the Expert

By Mark McLennon, J.D., CPA, CFP®

As vice president of Investment Products and Services business development, Mark is the chief liaison for IPS to the company’s Planning and Sales, Advanced Planning, Specialty Markets, Marketing and Meetings functions. Mark’s role also includes oversight of the fee-based financial planning program, IPS meeting development, IPS communications, and overseeing departmental growth initiatives.

Each week our Northwestern Mutual retirement experts answer your questions. This week’s question:

I am the beneficiary of a trust. Do I have the right to know the details of the trust?

Both the terms of a trust and the state laws that apply to a particular trust can vary as to the rights that a beneficiary has. With a revocable trust, where the person setting up the trust (the grantor) can revoke the trust, beneficiaries generally will not have any rights to know the specific terms of the trust unless the trust expressly says that they do, which would be rare.

With an irrevocable trust, beneficiaries usually have the right to know enough about the trust so they are able to enforce whatever rights they may have in the trust. Again, this varies based on the terms of the trust and applicable state law, so a qualified attorney would need to be consulted if the question is anything beyond curiosity.

Answers to specific questions about trusts usually contain terms like “usually” or “customarily” because trusts are truly tailored for the unique circumstances of the grantor(s). As much as trusts may contain what some view as “boilerplate” language, which specific boilerplate clauses are included in the trust will dictate the rights of the grantors, the trustee and the beneficiaries. Usually, beneficiaries of revocable trusts have limited or zero rights to know the details of a trust (even to know it exists); beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust, on the other hand, may have access rights to at least give them the ability to enforce whatever interest they have in the trust.

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