Very frequently I receive calls from people who are trying to locate a will or trust of their parent or loved one(s) who just passed away. They are not able to locate any trust documents or have any information about the attorney who created it. Once, after doing some research for a particular family, I found out that the attorney who created a trust had passed away before his client (then there was the job of finding where the deceased attorney's files went).
There are numerous cases of "lost wills." My personal favorite is digging around a person's property after they passed away, looking for a will that was supposedly buried in a container. Maybe a myth or legend, but it sets a graphic image.
Just this week I have a received a few phone calls about this exact issue. Families were trying to locate local attorneys who worked on trusts for loved ones by calling every attorney in the area. These random inquiries from other lawyers or loved ones make me think this is a problem for many people, or it might be down the road.
So what are some possible solutions for this problem? The following are tips to ensure that you or your loved ones do not fall into the abyss of lost documents:
Tips for Couples or Individuals Creating a Trust
- Give basic information that you created a trust to at least one or some of your loved ones. If you feel comfortable you might want to let them know of your wishes, desires and reasons why you made specific decisions about your assets.
- If your beneficiaries are also trustees, provide them with information on where the trust is located (especially if it is locked in the safety deposit box) and information on what they need to do if something is to happen to them. Also provide them with the contact information or business card to your attorney that drafted the trust. You might want to give a copy set to your trustee so they know all the details. Attorneys will have copies of client trusts in their files as well.
- If you don’t want your kids or beneficiaries to know the exact location of your trust or what the contents of the trust are, at least ensure they have contact information for the attorney that created the trust. Without this basic information, your kids /beneficiaries might be calling every attorney in the area trying to find this information. Or worse, they may need to pay another attorney to help them with this search.
Tips for Beneficiaries/Trustees of a Trust:
Have a heart-to-heart talk with your parents or loved ones about their wishes and desires on how things should be handled in the case they are not around. If your parents don’t have any legal documents set up about their health care decisions and assets, you may want to suggest that they seek an estate planning attorney. Ask your friends and/or professional advisors for references or recommendations.
If you know that your parent(s), loved one(s), or partner(s) have created a trust and that you are a beneficiary, ask them for the attorney contact information.
If your loved ones are comfortable with it, they might even tell you where their estate planning documents are stored or even give you a copy of it.