As the COVID-19 crisis progresses, many people struggle with spending so much time at home. A popular option to pass the time seems to be to review old boxes of paper stored in attics or garages. And, when reviewing the contents of those boxes, interesting things may be discovered! I’ve noticed that people are discovering copies of wills and trusts from relatives who have been deceased for decades. And, some of these estate planning documents may indicate that they are to receive a distribution, which perhaps they only partially received or never received at all. Is it too late to do anything about that?

Probably, yes, unfortunately, it is too late. My trusty Blacks Law Dictionary defines a statute of limitation as follows:

A statute prescribing limitations to the right of action on certain described causes of action or criminal prosecutions; that is, declaring that no suit shall be maintained on such causes of action, nor any criminal charge be made, unless brought within a specified period of time after the right accrued. Statutes of limitation are statutes of repose, and are such legislative enactments as prescribe the periods within which actions may be brought upon certain claims or within which certain rights may be enforced.

In other words, a potential heir cannot generally bring a cause of action in relation to a relative’s will or trust unless that cause of action falls within a time period, as specified by statute, for bringing claims of this nature. If a statute of limitations has expired, a potential claimant is generally considered to be “time barred” from bringing an action. For example, in relation to a trust, Of Counsel Attorney Sherry Lueders has blogged about how “[a] beneficiary is prevented from alleging breach of trust claims against a trustee involving acts covered in a trustee’s report more than three years after the beneficiary receives the [annual trust] report, provided the report gives the beneficiaries ‘sufficient notice’ of a potential claim.” But, suppose the trustee never sent out annual reports to the trust beneficiaries? Or, there are no copies of annual reports in the box, and no one remembers if the trustee sent annual reports or not? RCW 11.96A.070(c) states that, even if there were no annual reports or the reports were inadequate:

[A] judicial proceeding by a beneficiary against a trustee for breach of trust must be commenced within three years after the first to occur of:

(i) The removal, resignation, or death of the trustee;

(ii) The termination of the beneficiary’s interest in the trust; or

(iii) The termination of the trust.

If the trustor, the person who created the trust, has been deceased for decades, the trust may well have been terminated long ago so that the three-year statute of limitations has expired. But on the other hand, in Washington, pursuant to RCW 11.98.050 a trust can last for a maximum of a one hundred and fifty years. It is possible that the trust could still be in existence and you may be able to pursue a claim if there were no annual trust reports or those reports were inadequate. If you have questions or want to explore the issue further, you should contact a trusts and estates attorney to find out more information. We’d be happy to help.

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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