How to Locate a Family Trust
A family trust is a legal document that gives a trustee, often a family member, the legal authority to make decisions about the distribution of income, property or other assets to identified family members. Often, a family member establishes a family trust to protect assets, create tax advantages and avoid probate actions. To locate a family trust, contact family members, the relative's attorney or financial planner and local banks where the trust may have been created. Another approach is to look for the family trust name, which may be in recorded public records, then conduct further searches using that trust name.
Contact relatives. Ask family members if they know the identity of the trustee, who might be a non-family member, a relative, a bank or an asset management adviser. If you are a beneficiary, the trustee has a legal obligation to have made reasonable efforts to contact you. However, it may be that the trustee didn't have recent contact information for you, and it's in your best interest to initiate contact.
Ask the relative's attorney. If you know the attorney who might have drafted the trust, contact her and inquire if a trust was established; and if so, inquire whether you're a beneficiary and of the identity of the trustee. If you're not sure who the attorney is, ask relatives. Because a family might have used the same attorney for different needs, you can also check for an attorney's name in publicly maintained documents, such as lawsuits or wills lodged with the clerk of court.
Contact financial institutions. Sometimes people designate a bank or a financial planner as a trustee. For example, an elderly person whose health is failing or who has lost touch with family members might use a bank to create a living trust to help manage his financial affairs. Contact banks and financial planners in the region where a family member lived. It's probably more efficient to make such requests in person so that you can readily provide any requested identification.
Check the recorder's office. If you know where a family member lived, visit the clerk and recorder's office for that county and request help finding family trust documents that might be recorded in that office. Sometimes you can locate the family trust name in documents under the family name in the grantor/grantee index.
Search the family trust name. After identifying the trust name, search for it in other documents at the clerk and recorder's office, such as in liens, mortgages, real property deeds and judgments. If a family trust earns income, that information must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Therefore, also check tax returns filed under the trust name.
If you have trouble finding a family trust, consider hiring a private investigator. Contact your state professional private investigator association, and request an investigator experienced in locating family trusts.
It's advantageous to contact the trustee in writing to build a paper trail. This documentation triggers the trustee's duties to distribute money, property or other assets to you.