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Trusts & Estates Law/Trusts - Priviledged Information


Beneficiaries of a Trust asked for copies of the Trust lawyer's billing statements. We have been told by the Trustee and the Trust lawyer we are not allowed to see the billing statements as the statements contain some privileged information. The lawyer would first have to "sanitize" the billings and the beneficiaries will have to pay her addition money to do so. The Trust lawyer is also the Trustee's personal lawyer.  Trust was made in California. Are beneficiaries not entitled to copies of all billing statements? She was paid from the Trust.  Is there a Probate Code?   Thank you

Thank you for your email.  If the trust was established in California, then under California law the lawyer is the trustee's lawyer - not the beneficiaries'.  So you would not be entitled to see the billing details.  You are, however, entitled to an "accounting" of the way the trust's money was invested and spent "at least once annually" and more often "if reasonable."  This would be charged to the trust as an expense of administering it - but it probably would not provide the level of detail you're looking for.

And yes, galling though it might be, since the lawyer's fees are an expense of administering the trust, it is proper to pay them from the trust even though you don't have the right to the details of what the trust was paying for.

If you believe that the charges are unreasonable, then your only recourse would be to file a petition with the probate court - and unless you were able to prove that the trustee was acting improperly, you would pay your own attorney's fees out of your own pocket, but both the trustee's fees and the fees for the trustee's lawyer would be paid out of the trust itself.... I assume that the legal theory behind doing it this way is to prevent the trustee from having to put up with frivolous requests from the beneficiaries and having to pay them out of his/her own pocket - the presumption is that the trustee is administering the trust properly and if you believe otherwise, you need to overcome that presumption (and pay your own fees unless you sustain your "burden of proof").

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Janet Brewer


BE CAREFUL about taking legal advice from non-lawyers.

I am a licensed attorney in California. I am available to answer questions about probating estates, preparing wills and trusts, administering estates and trusts, forming family limited partnerships and limited liability companies, and establishing a wide variety of estate and gift tax-sensitive trusts (charitable trusts, children's trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, etc.).

I can also answer questions regarding the preparation of estate tax returns (Form 706) in taxable estates. Please note that I do not prepare trust income tax returns and cannot provide you with any information about that type of return.

Please note: I am only able to practice law in the State of California. I cannot answer specific questions about other states' laws; I can only provide some "general" information that may or may not apply to your situation.


I have practiced California estate, gift-planning, and probate law exclusively since 1991. I am certified as a specialist in estate planning and probate law by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization (there are less than 125 such specialists practicing in Santa Clara County and fewer than 7,000 practicing in California - out of over 170,000 lawyers statewide).

I have served as an Instructor in the CFP (certificate in financial planning) program at University of California Santa Cruz, teaching the estate planning segment.

Silicon Valley Bar Association
Wealth Counsel
Wealth Advisors' Forum
Executive Committee Member, Solo and Small Firm Section of the California State Bar (appointed to a 3 year term by the California State Bar Board of Governors)

I received my law degree (J.D.) from University of Denver Law School in 1975. I was admitted to the Colorado Bar in 1975 and to the California Bar in 1977 (NOTE: although I am a member of the Colorado Bar, I am on INACTIVE status there). I earned an M.B.A. in 1982, and I earned a Masters Degree in Taxation Law (LLM) at Golden Gate University Law School in 2010 (with honors).

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Awards and Honors
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012 - chosen as a "SuperLawyer" - one of the top 5% of Northern California lawyers practicing in the estate planning and probate area ( Avvo Rating of 10.0/10.0

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