In 1993, my husband and I had a Family Revocable Trust written up with a revision made in 2004. Then my husband passed away in 2008 and I wanted to make some changes to the beneficiary list which is linked to the Trust. I wanted to remove several people that had died, change amounts bequeathed, and eliminate some people and organizations who had recently done some things that I highly disapproved. But the lawyer informed me that when my husband died the trust became Irrevocable and I couldn’t make any changes to the beneficiary list. It was set in stone and I couldn’t do anything about it. The lawyer said he made up this “irrevocable” trust for us (without our knowledge) because it would save us money. Our Trust clearly has “Revocable Trust” in the title and my husband and I did not know it would become irrevocable once either one of us died. Is there any possible way for me to legally amend my beneficiary list?

Terry Says:

Whew — this was an old practice that I have talked about on TV and Radio and in my books for years.  I have tried to warn women about this practice.   In order to “protect” the surviving spouse (the wife), many attorneys created these trusts that did not allow the survivor to change either the beneficiaries, the investment advisors, the named trustees, or the terms of the trust.  That was so the widow wouldn’t get taken advantage of by scam artists, or the next spouse!  The provision is nick-named “the hand from the grave!”  And no wonder!!

You need a DIFFERENT law firm to look at the terms of this trust to see if you can break it, or somehow withdraw enough money to make the trust irrelevant.  Go to http://www.search-attorneys.com/ — a website that specializes in estate planning law firms — to find one in your area.  Take a copy of the documents to y our meeting.  It should be at no cost to you.  Then ask them if they can “break” the trust, and what they estimate their fees would be.  You might want to talk to one or two attorneys before making a decision to proceed.

The lesson from this question:  If your estate documents have not been updated in years, take a new look. Make sure a surviving spouse has the power to remove trustees and change beneficiaries of any trust created on “her behalf.”