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Under California Law, your Living Trust is a private document. Unlike a Will, the Living Trust is not filed and made a public record on your death. No one has a right to see your personal private provisions except for very limited purposes. For example, the Assessor's Office may require a copy to ensure that a distribution is being transferred from a parent to a child to qualify for the exclusion of reassessment of property taxes. That is the extent of it --the Trust is not filed as a public record. When banks ask you for a copy of your Trust to arrange a Trust bank account you should give them your Certificate of Trust, not your entire Trust Agreement.

Clients have asked our office about the propriety of turning over their Living Trust to attorneys, financial planners or advisors as part of a public seminar. We strongly recommend against this. Why? Because you are basically waiving your rights to its privacy and confidentiality.

There are some attorneys who operate Trust mills that can gather all types of information from your Trust that should be confidential to you and your family. For instance, you may be revealing the following voluntarily:

1) Your assets on your Trust Schedules;
2) Your distribution arrangements to your beneficiaries;
3) The names of your beneficiaries and personal attributes or characteristics such as disabilities, drug or alcohol abuse, or gambling issues, etc.;
4) Who you may have disinherited;
5) Social Security Numbers and contact information of children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries;
6) Identification of real properties you may own;
7) Personal explanations of why you have included certain provisions;
8) Names and contact information of your Successor Trustees.

This information may be then utilized by the individuals conducting the seminar for their own purposes. They may be valid purposes or they may be utilized for contact information or to pursue their own objectives. We are well aware of certain law offices who offer enticements to obtain a copy of your Family Trust. Once you release it to them it may be copied, scanned or duplicated at their whim.

It would be more constructive to have your Trust reviewed, from time to time by a prominent attorney. However, we recommend that you do so on a one-on-one basis with the attorney personally. Most of the time, the attorney can accomplish this task in a consultation without obtaining a copy of your Trust. I, personally, have reviewed thousands of Living Trusts in personal consultations over the years without obtaining a copy of the Trust.

Think about it --how much personal attention will you receive in a review of your Family Trust at a 2 hour public seminar. Is the waiver of confidentiality of your personal information worth the value of an enticement.

I don't think so.

Jack E. Stephens 

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