We all get a lot of seemingly irrelevant, trash-worthy mail. But there’s one piece of mail you should never ignore: an official trustee notification.
It’s for this reason that we ask potential clients right up front, “Did you receive a letter called a trustee notification?” followed closely by, “Did it have a bold paragraph saying you have 120 days to contest the trust?” If we get silence in response, or a weak “I dunno,” we probably have our work cut out for us.
You can toss the real estate mailers, the home refi letters and other junky solicitations. But if you receive a trustee notification stop, open it immediately, read it thoroughly, and consider your options.
A trustee notification is a formal communication that lets beneficiaries know when any major changes to the trust have occurred. Typically, these include the death of the trustor, and announce that a new trust is being formed by the terms of a will. The good news: they’re the official notice that you can object to and contest the new terms. The bad news: if you don’t take action within the prescribed time period you will lose your opportunity to do so.
Sadly, many of our clients ignore trustee notifications. Later—sometimes years after the letter was received, they call Trust Law Partners to see if they can lay claim to trust assets they believe were rightfully theirs. That puts us in the unfortunate position of telling them that, legally, since they let the deadline lapse, they’re mostly out of luck.
One big area of concern about trustee notifications involves the stated 120-day time limit for taking action. The probate code is very strict about this. Once you receive a trustee notification the clock starts running from the date on the letter, or the proof of service if one is attached. You have 120 days to contest the trust, if you choose to do so, and not a day more. To be safe, you should start with the earlier of the two dates.
Accuracy matters, too. Don’t just take the effective date and add four months, as months vary between 28 and 31 days. Take the extra time to count off the actual 120 days. It could mean the difference between getting an inheritance or being left out in the cold.
Next, it’s important to understand that when the notification mentions “objections” to stated changes in the trust, it doesn’t mean showing up in court and shouting, “I object!” Nor is it your cue to call the person who sent the letter and loudly protest. No, it demands filing written objections in court.
If you receive a trustee notification, here is what we at Trust Law Partners recommend to our clients:
- Read it immediately
- Make sure you clearly understand what has changed
- Pinpoint the deadline for filing a formal objection
- If you do wish to object, call an attorney at right away
If you wait till shortly before the deadline to take action, it might be difficult to find an attorney willing to help you. To avoid a late filing, most will not take a case too close to the deadline.
One last thing: It’s always best to have a copy of the trust before you call an attorney so that they can better advise you on the merits of your case. (The trustee must send it within 60 days if requested formally in writing to the trustee or their attorney.) Also, other family members may be interested in contesting the trust, and it’s best to speak to them to see if you’ll have their support.
Contesting a trust is never a straightforward proposition. It can involve navigating a thicket of laws, inflexible deadlines, as well as withering family dynamics. Trust Law Partners is always here to help you.