Living trusts are not public record, unlike wills.
A trust created during your lifetime usually does not go into the public record
A testamentary trust, created through a will, does become part of the public record
Some states allow trust beneficiaries or family members to see the terms of a deceased person’s trust
A trust is one way to pass money, property, or other assets to your heirs after your die. Trusts created during your lifetime, known as living trusts, do not go into the public record after you die. With rare exceptions, trusts remain private regardless of whether you have an irrevocable or revocable trust at the time of your death. A trust differs from a last will and testament: all wills go into the public record.
The only type of trust that goes into the public record is a testamentary trust. A testamentary trust is created after you die, according to language written into your will. Since your will enters into the public record after going through probate, the language and information used to create your trust becomes public.
In many states, the beneficiaries of a living trust are also entitled to a copy of the trust details, though they’d have to request that information from the trustee. There are also a couple of situations where some people can see the details of a trust, like when property ownership transfers from a trust to a beneficiary.
The main exception to the privacy of trusts is a testamentary trust. Someone creates a testamentary trust through their will by including instructions on how to create a trust; the will must state what assets should go into a testamentary trust, who the trustee is, and who the trust beneficiaries are. After the will goes through probate, the trust is created. Wills go into the public record after the probate process, so anyone can read the trust information. After the trust has been created and all assets have been moved into the trust, no further information needs to be shared publicly.
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When someone with a living trust dies, the state they lived in may allow the trust beneficiaries to request the trust details from the trustee. Depending on the state, the beneficiaries may be entitled to a copy of the whole trust document (also called a trust agreement) or they may only be entitled to trust information that’s directly related to them. In some states, family members who are closely related to the decedent may also have a right to request a copy of the trust.
There are a couple other situations where people may have access some or all trust details. are entitled to look at your trust document (its founding legal form).
When someone dies, their trust becomes an irrevocable trust and any disputes around asset ownership must be settled by a court. Information shared during the court proceedings, potentially including the entire trust document, will then go into the public record. However, these types of legal challenges aren’t common. (Keep in mind that irrevocable trusts aren’t subject to creditor claims.)
The deeds for real estate are made public. Whether the property owner is a person or a trust, anyone can see who knows the property by going through the local office of land record. Similarly, transferring ownership of property from the trust’s creator to a trust beneficiary may require recording the trust document with the local office of land records (called the registry of deeds or county recorder in some places).
For advice on creating an estate plan that maximizes privacy, consider talking with an estate planning attorney.
If your estate is worth enough that it’s subject to the estate tax, your trustee needs to detail the trust’s contents on the estate tax forms. However, estate tax returns are not made public and the trust documents remain private. The IRS (and individual states) do release aggregated income tax information, but they work to protect the personal information of tax filers.
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Derek is a tax expert at Policygenius in New York City. He has written about multiple personal finance topics in the past, and his work has been covered by Yahoo Finance, MSN, Business Insider and CNBC.
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