older couple amending trust

Do I Need an Attorney to Amend a Trust?

Would you attempt to perform surgery on someone without the help of a doctor? You certainly wouldn’t if you wanted them to survive. While nobody is likely to die if you try to amend a trust without the help of a lawyer, you are just as likely to fail.

California probate law is complicated. And even a slight difference in wording can result in significantly different results than you intended. If you try to take the law into your own hands without any experience, you are likely to regret the outcome.

Complications from Mistakes

A trust is a legal document granting significant benefits. Depending on the nature of your trust, it might grant beneficiaries some or all of the assets you own (or owned if it is a testamentary trust). These are resources that you rightfully want to control the disbursement of.

If you make a mistake when amending your trust, you could potentially:

  • Name the wrong person as a trustee
  • Grant a trustee powers you never intended
  • Name the wrong person as a beneficiary
  • Unintentionally remove someone as a beneficiary
  • Grant a beneficiary assets that you never intended
  • Disburse assets that you didn’t intend to share
  • Unintentionally terminate your trust
  • Make your trust irrevocable

And unfortunately, unless you are experienced with estate law, you are unlikely to identify a mistake until it is too late.

How to Avoid Mistakes

The simplest way to avoid this is to engage the services of an experienced estate lawyer. They understand probate law and know how to craft legal language to ensure that your trust provides the benefits you intend.

When speaking to your attorney, you must explain what you want and the reasoning behind your desires. This gives your lawyer better insight into how your trust should be amended to best fit your wants.

Additionally, after you make any changes to a trust, you should advise all affected parties of those changes. This will limit the ability of other parties to contest these changes because they can’t claim to have been unaware of them when they were made.

Will you need to take legal action?

Just because your trust is a legal document, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to involve the courts in changes to it. If the trust is revocable, your lawyer can typically make amendments without any meaningful legal action, except for possibly reporting those changes to a local court.

However, if the trust is irrevocable, you typically can’t make any amendments unless every affected party agrees or a judge gives you the right to amend it. The latter will require you to petition a court and will usually only be approved in limited circumstances.

Finally, even if the trust is revocable, an affected party can contest amendments via civil action. If this happens, you will be grateful that you are represented by an experienced estate attorney.

Protect Your Loved Ones with an Experienced Estate Attorney

Whether you have created a living trust or a testamentary trust, the reason you created it was to protect one or more of your loved ones. These documents ensure that your assets are disbursed in the way you want to people who are important to you. The last thing you want is for a trust to be ruined by a mistake.

When you make changes to a trust for any reason, make sure that you are assisted by an experienced estate, wills, or trust lawyer like the ones at OC Wills & Trusts in Orange County to ensure that your trust protects your loved ones the way you intend.

Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.