Is there anything I can do if I've been excluded from a trust?

1 answer | Last updated: Mar 13, 2015
A fellow caregiver asked...

If there is a trust fund set up by a parent and he dies, and his widow has control of the family trust, can she make changes to exclude one of four of her children? If so, what can the excluded child do, if anything?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

In a true family trust, the person named as trustee has the discretion to distribute trust income in any way he or she sees fit -- and if the trust provides the widow with this type of broad discretion, she would be free to exclude one of the children.

However, the law does not embrace this type of exclusion easily -- and will often require that there is specific language in an estate planning document such as a will or trust that makes clear that the maker intended to exclude the particular child. And if the trust was originally set up as an irrevocable one -- meaning it cannot be changed -- and it named as the children as beneficiaries, then the widow may not be free to simply ignore its provisions.

One truism about trusts is that they need not be filed in court or made public, so it can be tricky to check up on the particulars of their provisions. If you are the excluded child in this situation and have more at stake than some hurt pride, it may be worth your investment to hire an experienced estate planning lawyer for help.