Hollywood theatrics have most people convinced there is some type of formal “reading of the will” in which all concerned parties gather around the desk of a wills and trust attorney’s desk to hear what each has been bequeathed.
In reality, there isn’t any legal mandate requiring said records to be read aloud. Rather, what happens is a Florida wills and trusts attorney will review these records to ascertain who is entitled by law to receive a copy of the trust – and who probably should be sent a copy even if state law doesn’t require it.
Trusts aren’t considered public record, and thus trustees may deny a contesting party’s request to review certain records. However, that decision could be challenged in court, particularly when those documents are central to the basis of the will contest.
In plain English: If the named trustee refuses to produce copies of the will and documents pertaining to the trust, you can take it to a judge.
A Challenge to Withholding Florida Trust Documents
Last year, for instance, in the case of Boren v. Rogers, the adult child of an elderly woman who bequeathed the bulk of her estate to a woman who was not family and whom she befriended later in life while her health was failing sought production of the will and trust from the beneficiary’s attorney/trustee. When those records were refused, she sued.
The trial court, after conducting an in camera review of the requested records, denied contestor’s request without explanation beyond asserting the documents in question “weren’t relevant.” Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed, finding the documents central to plaintiff’s standing as a prior beneficiary, and that without those records, her case would be altogether eviscerated.
Parties to Whom Trust Record Copies are Required/Recommended
Generally speaking, those who would have a legal and/or vested interest in reviewing copies of will and trust documents would be:
- Successors. These are individuals named to serve as the successor trustee, or the person designated responsible for settling the trust. He/she will need a copy of the trust agreement in order to ascertain who the beneficiaries are and whether there were any special instructions or restrictions about each beneficiary’s shares.
- Beneficiaries. These would be individuals named in the trust agreement who would be entitled to receive some distribution of the estate. Obviously, they’ll need to know what the trust or will says about what they’re entitled to receive and how. Secondary beneficiaries – those entitled to inherit estate property after the initial beneficiary’s death – would also be entitled to receive copies of those records. In the case of under-18 beneficiaries, those copies would go to the child’s legal or natural guardian.
- Prior beneficiaries/heirs. These would be individuals who either aren’t named in the trust as a beneficiary (but whom one might generally expect to be) or those previously named in it but were removed at some point prior to the testator’s death. Sending these records may not be required, but your Fort Lauderdale wills and trust attorney can explain it’s often a smart idea if one expects the validity of the trust agreement to be challenged by one or more of these individuals.
- Trust accountant. The person designated as the trust accountant will need these records to understand the precise instructions for payoff of debts, the actual size of the trust, income tax filings and allocating elements of the estate to beneficiaries.
- Personal representative. If the trust wasn’t fully funded before decedent passed away, it’s likely the matter will need to go to probate for resolution. In that case, the personal representative of the estate (named in the will) needs to get a copy of the trust.
- Government taxing authority. This could be either the Internal Revenue Service or the Florida Department of Revenue.
Questions about who is entitled to such records or how you can go about formally requesting a review yourself should be directed to your Fort Lauderdale wills and trust attorney.
Call Fort Lauderdale Probate Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Boren v. Rogers, Feb. 2, 2018, Fla. 5th DCA