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Who Has the Right to View an Irrevocable Trust in Wisconsin?

Attorney Thomas B. Burton answers the following question in his popular Real Estate Question and Answer Series: "Who Has the Right to View an Irrevocable Trust in Wisconsin?"

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Hello, I'm Attorney Thomas Burton and welcome back to my Question and Answer Series.

Today's question comes from Appleton, Wisconsin and the viewer asked the following: "Who has the right to view an irrevocable trust document in Wisconsin?"

"The niece of my stepmother insists on viewing my stepmother's trust document. She was never a beneficiary listed in the trust, yet insists that her aunt, my stepmom, promised her money."

So first of all, in general, if your stepmother is still alive, she would be the only person who has the right to view her trust document because a trust is a private document and that's part of why many people use them, they're private during life and private after death and if your stepmother created the trust and she's the grantor or the settler and still alive, it would be her business whether she shares that trust document with anyone at all.

Now, the only other person who might see the trust while she's alive, would be a trustee she named inside of the trust document. So if your stepmother named someone else as trustee, it's possible she gave a copy of the trust document to that trustee and they would also have the right to see the document being named as the trustee. However, after she passes, generally then the rights to see the trust document depend on whether your beneficiary named inside of the trust or not.

In Wisconsin, under the trust code, if you look at section 701, chapter 701 is the Wisconsin trust code and there's a little bit in there, it gets a little bit confusing because there's certain sections for revocable trust which is the most common estate planning tool. A trust you can change during life and then irrevocable, which means you can't change it after you set it up but you will notice that certain subsections do not apply to an irrevocable trust created before July 1, 2014. So you didn't mention the date of her trust in here but if it was created before that, that's when the new trust code went into effect. It's possible that even the trust code sections don't apply.

I would recommend you sit down with a qualified estate planning attorney, who could look at the trust in question and the dates it was signed and created and let you know, if this, it sounds like niece of the step mother has any right at all to view the trust document.

So there's two big questions - is the step mother still alive because then I think it's very unlikely she has a right to see it and then the second question is if she's gone, is this niece named as a beneficiary? If she's named as a beneficiary in the trust, it's possible the trust itself may say that beneficiaries have a right to see the trust document and they generally, a lot of trust have a right to an accounting, at least annually or there may be rights under the trust code but if she's not a beneficiary at all and even if your stepmother has passed away, then I think it's very unlikely she would have any right to see the trust because again, a trust is a private document.

Unlike a will, the great thing about a trust is it's private during life and private after death, after you die, you don't file it, it doesn't become a public document with the probate court like a will does and it sounds like you're, the step-niece or excuse me, it's niece of my stepmother, just thinks she was named in the trust and doesn't even know that.

So there isn't a general right to just see a trust to see if you're named as a beneficiary because a lot of people could think maybe they're named at someone's trust and demand to see a copy of it but the fact is if they're not named they're not a beneficiary.

Again, I would look at the trust code, that's Wisconsin statutes chapter 701 as the trust code and then look at the date of your irrevocable trust and see if it was signed before July 1, 2014, those sections of the trust code may not even apply to an irrevocable trust created before July 1, 2014.

So excellent question and thank you for asking. I do see questions arise about this fairly frequently because people have some confusion over the term revocable versus irrevocable trust and then also who exactly has the right to see the documents and in general, just big general concept, you either need to be named as a beneficiary in a trust or as the fiduciary like the trustee, to have a right to see that trust document and if you're a beneficiary, often the right to see it doesn't kick in until the person who created it passed away because for a revocable trust while they're alive, they could change the trust and remove you as a beneficiary or even an irrevocable trust, sometimes you're not the actual current beneficiary until someone passes away. Sometimes they name themselves as the current beneficiary or child, things like that. So generally, there's sometimes a triggering fact that has to happen which is many times death before your rights to like an accounting, I mentioned earlier would kick in and again, that's all subject to the terms of the trust itself and the Wisconsin trust code and then like I mentioned, it depends when that trust was signed because the trust code went into effect July 1, 2014 and if it was an irrevocable trust before then, it may not even, those new sections about who has the right to see documents may not even apply.

So, excellent question, thank you for asking as I think this is illustrative for our other viewers as well thank you for tuning in and if this video has been helpful to you, please consider giving it a LIKE so that others can see and benefit from this information as well.

Thanks for watching and we'll see you next time.

© 2022 Burton Law LLC. All Rights Reserved. Transcript and captions provided for ease of access for the hearing impaired. For questions about this topic, or to suggest a topic for a future blog post, please contact the office.


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