How can I amend a family trust? 3 Answers as of January 18, 2011

Four years ago we had our family trust reviewed and restructured. At that time, we noted the distribution of our estate to our children in the form of percentages. We now wish to change those distributions without disclosing what they were four years ago. What procedure should we consider considering the expense?

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Givner & Kaye
Givner & Kaye | Bruce Givner
The answer depends upon (i) the terms of the trust and (ii) your state's laws. However, in general, you can prepare a written document to amend the terms of the trust. Refer specifically to the paragraphs of the trust that you wish to revise. Sign the amendment. For safety have your signature notarized. However, the best result is to work with a competent lawyer in the state in which you reside. The cost for a minor amendment should be acceptable to you.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/18/2011
Javia & Moore
Javia & Moore | Marisa-Andrea Moore
This is a great question. Generally, the type of trust that you have will determine whether you can amend it and how to do so. If a trust is revocable by its terms (i.e., a revocable living trust), the settlor can revoke and amend at any time as long as there is no other settlor (e.g., wife, husband) who does not consent. Amending a revocable trust can be simple or complex depending upon how complicated your family trust is. If the trust is irrevocable by its terms, then you would need to look at the provisions of the trust itself to determine what powers of amendment exist and to whom they were granted. Some trusts contain provisions that grant a trustee powers of appointment and the ability to modify the distributions. Without this kind of provision within the actual trust document of an irrevocable trust, many states including California, require you to file a petition with the Probate Court in order to amend or modify an irrevocable trust. When this happens, the trust will generally not be amended or terminated without the agreement of all beneficiaries. Thus, in this case, the prior distributions would have to be disclosed. This process can be quite expensive and lengthy.

In order to accomplish your goals in the most cost efficient manner without knowing more specific facts about the kind of family trust you have, I highly recommend that you seek an estate planning attorney who can review your trust and let you know what kind you have and what you need to do to amend that particular kind of trust. This is an important step which can save you and family extraordinary expense in the long run.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/17/2011
Meyer & Yee, LLP
Meyer & Yee, LLP | Kent W. Meyer
Generally the trust can be amended but it should be done in the proper format. In this case they would not have to know the percentages. We can help with this if you wish.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/17/2011
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