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Ask the County Law Librarian – Registration of Living Trusts

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Q. My mother created a living trust in 1990 and amended it in 2005 with the aid of an attorney in Sacramento County. My mother died last month. Are there any copies of this trust filed with the county?



A. Estate planning documents, including living trusts, are usually not filed with a court or county agency before a death; in fact, only a handful of states require a trustee register a trust with the county court, and California isn’t one of them (See Nolo Press’ Make Your Own Living Trust, Ch. 12, for the list of states that do). Generally, the settlor will retain the original, signed trust instrument in her records along with several copies, which may or may not be distributed to successor trustees and beneficiaries during her lifetime.

If you haven’t yet located the original trust instrument, there are several places in which to look. Contrary to popular belief, original documents are generally not kept at the drafting attorney’s office, although the attorney may retain a copy. Often, the trust will be in a binder or a large envelope in a desk drawer or file cabinet with other important documents. It’s a good idea to search your mother’s file cabinets and desk.

Next, contact any banks she used to find out if she had a safe-deposit box there.  Banks will typically let family members open a safe-deposit box in the presence of a bank officer to search for estate-planning documents, although nothing else may be removed. Be sure to bring a copy of the death certificate.

The Law Library has several books that may be useful. Make Your Own Living Trust, mentioned above and published by Nolo Press, covers procedures for both the settlor and the successor trustee. Chapter 12 discusses common practices for copying, storing, and registering the trust document upon its creation.

The responsibilities of a successor trustee are explained in detail in The Trustee’s Legal Companion (Nolo Press) and The Executor’s Guide: Settling a Loved One’s Estate or Trust (Nolo Press). If you want specific instructions on what the successor trustee will or may have to do, I suggest reading one of these books. You can find these titles online at nolo.com or Amazon, or at your local public law library.To find the county law library nearest you, visit www.publiclawlibrary.org

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian





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