Beneficiary Rights In California

California law protects the rights of certain individuals, including trust beneficiaries. If you’re a beneficiary, it’s important to understand your rights so you can protect yourself and your interests.

An experienced attorney at OC Wills & Trusts can clearly explain your rights as a beneficiary, fiercely protect those rights, and provide skilled representation when necessary. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

What is a beneficiary?

A beneficiary is an individual who “benefits” from something. In estate planning particularly, a beneficiary is the individual for whom a trust is created.

A trust is a legal document creating a fiduciary relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary. The person who creates the trust called the trustor, creates and funds the trust for the eventual benefit of the beneficiary. The trustee is in charge of overseeing the distribution of trust assets and ensuring the terms of the trust are followed.

Individuals of any age can be beneficiaries. However, minors cannot typically take possession of their inheritances until they reach the age of majority, which is 18. 

Beneficiary Rights in California

As a beneficiary, you are afforded certain rights under the law. It is important to familiarize yourself with these rights to help ensure your interests are always protected. 

The Right to Obtain a Copy of the Trust Document

First and foremost, you are entitled to request and receive a copy of the trust document.

Even if you were never given a copy of the trust in the first place, nothing is stopping you from acquiring a copy at any point. Trust documents contain plenty of vital information, including:

  • The assets and property held in the trust
  • The terms of the trust per the trustor
  • Pertinent information regarding the trust assets and property 

To obtain a copy of the trust document, you can reach out to the trustee. 

The Right to Proper and Timely Distributions

When a trustor creates a trust, they include terms detailing when and how distributions to beneficiaries are to occur. The trustee must respect these terms and do as the trust instructs.

It is particularly helpful to familiarize yourself with the terms of the trust, which is one of the primary reasons to request a copy. Knowledge is power — if you know how much to expect and when you should expect it, trustees cannot get away with failing to deliver. 

The Right to a Yearly Accounting

An accounting is a report detailing the distributions, payments, income, and expenses of the trust. 

Under the law in California, beneficiaries are entitled to receive a yearly accounting of the trust. The accounting must be full and thorough and provided to the beneficiary each year unless the trust agreement provides a different time frame for periodic accounting reports. 

The Right to Challenge the Validity of a Trust

Beneficiaries rely on a trust document being created and executed properly. However, if doubt ever exists, beneficiaries are entitled to contest the trust.

Contesting a trust typically happens when the beneficiary believes there is a question on the legality or legitimacy of a trust. A lawyer with experience protecting beneficiary rights can represent you. 

The Right to Receive Notifications Regarding Changes in the Trust

As a beneficiary, you have an interest in the trust. Therefore, if any sort of change occurs with the trust, you are entitled to find out about it.

Changes to a trust could include a trustee stepping down, a new individual taking over as trustee, or anything of the like. Additionally, when the trustor passes away, you should also receive timely notification as a beneficiary of their trust. 

Trustees Must Always Act in the Beneficiary’s Best Interest

Many of a beneficiary’s rights revolve around trustees. Why? Because the trustee has certain rights and obligations to the beneficiary of a trust.

When a trustee is appointed, the trustor trusts this individual to make decisions that benefit the beneficiary rather than the trustee themselves. 

Along with making accurate and timely distributions, the trustee is also responsible for taking good care of all property and assets in the trust. They should not use these assets for themselves but rather preserve them for the eventual transfer to the beneficiaries. 

If there are multiple beneficiaries in a trust, the trustee must act with impartiality. They should not favor one beneficiary over the others but treat all beneficiaries with respect and equality. 

If a trustee fails to act appropriately under their title, they can face repercussions. 

Can a beneficiary ever sue a trustee?

Yes, it is possible for a beneficiary to sue a trustee.

Trustees owe beneficiaries fiduciary duties, meaning they must act in that party’s best interests. If a trustee breaches their fiduciary duties, a beneficiary may have the right to take legal action. 

An attorney can provide proper guidance and representation should you need to file suit against a trustee. 

Allow a Qualified Attorney to Help Protect Your Beneficiary Rights

When you need someone on your side to protect your rights as a trust beneficiary, allow the lawyers at OC Wills & Trust to assist you. Contact us today to request a consultation.