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Do family members have to be told they received no inheritance?

Many of us have at least one family member we love but who has been lost to us due to alcohol and/or drug abuse or perhaps a series of bad life choices. When people are creating an estate plan, there are ways to set up a trust for someone like that so that they don't get money they'll only use to harm themselves.

Discretionary trusts can be established so that if a person turns their life around (for example, completes a recovery program and stays sober for a specified period), they can have access to the funds. Of course, that can place a significant burden on the trustee who has to determine if and when the beneficiary should receive the inheritance.

Many parents opt to disinherit their wayward child completely. So, what happens if you're administering an estate or a trust for a parent or other family member who left a loved one nothing? Do you have to notify them that they aren't receiving an inheritance?

If the estate plan was established here in California, you may have to. If a person set up a living trust, for example, with two of their three children as beneficiaries, all the children are required under California probate law to be notified of the existence of the trust -- even if they weren't named in it.

If the person can be located, the trustee would have to sign a letter informing them that they were not included in the estate plan. An attorney handling the estate would typically send that letter. If the person can't be located (after a legitimate search), the administrator can't be held responsible for not informing them of the contents of the estate plan.

If the person who was left out wouldn't be presumed under probate law to be a beneficiary, no notification is necessary. This might be the case, for example, if it's a stepchild, and the biological parent is no longer alive.

If you're a trustee, executor or have other fiduciary responsibilities for an estate and you have a similar situation, talk with the attorney for the estate or another experienced attorney. They can advise you of your responsibilities under California law.

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