By Tim Barkley. May 2019.

Susan sounded uncharacteristically jubilant on the phone: “Big news! Mary was picked up for a DUI and has disappeared! I don’t think she’ll be causing any more trouble.”

“That’s a relief,” replied the lawyer. “We’ll have to talk to your mother’s lawyer and see what she says about the guardianship, now that Mary’s out of the picture.”

“I think it’s more than just the DUI,” replied Susan. “Mom’s attorney told me that she had found out that Dad put the house and the real estate investments in a trust before he died. Mary couldn’t get into the trust, so I think she lost interest. Even without the DUI, I think she would have gone away.”


“Very. But we have a problem. Nobody knows where the trust is, or what it said. Nobody even knows who the trustee is supposed to be after Dad died. Dad’s old lawyer is dead.

“Mom has taken a turn for the worse since the court hearing, and she basically won’t deal with any of this. And Mary has tossed lots of stuff from old file boxes. My brother and I have been through everything we can find and nothing says ‘TRUST’ on it. What do we do? We need to sell one of the rentals to pay for Mom’s assisted living bill – the rentals are enough to pay for her living costs at home, but not in assisted living.

“What do we do?”

The lawyer pondered. “Maybe your Dad sent a copy of the trust to the bank or broker. Have you checked?”

“The bank accounts were joint between Dad and Mom until he died, and then just in her name. I’m not sure the bank knew about the trust. There was no broker. Dad just bought stock in his own name and we sold it all when he died – Mom didn’t trust the market.”

The lawyer accessed his browser while Susan was talking. “I’m checking on the Maryland website that shows real estate transfers. What was your father’s name?”

Susan gave the information, and the lawyer entered it into the search window. “I see the deed your father and mother signed to put the house in the trust, and I see the deeds showing the trust buying the rentals. But I don’t see that the trust was recorded. It probably wouldn’t have been – the whole point of a trust is usually privacy.

“Strike two.”

“So . . . “

“It’s not pretty. If you can’t find a copy anywhere, we’ll need to file a lawsuit to get the Court to tell us what ought to happen with the property.

“Normally, a trust like that would take care of Mom as long as she lived, and then give everything to the kids in equal shares. We’d probably want the Court to decide who manages the property for Mom, and to order that everybody shares equally when she dies. The Court won’t create the trust – the judge might just decide that Mom’s guardian gets control of the properties.

“You’ll need to be able to state under oath that you’ve done everything you can to find a copy of the trust. Do you have any idea what it said? Didn’t Dad ever discuss that with you?”

“No. He didn’t think that kind of stuff was any of our business. He didn’t think it was any of Mom’s business either – he just told her what to sign, and she signed.”

“Was there any close friend or relative that Dad trusted who might have a copy or know where one is?”

“Not anybody living that I know of. Dad really didn’t tell anybody about his business.”

“Then we’ll just have to go through the Court. We’ll probably have to publish notice in the paper, in case anybody wants to be part of the case. Ideally, we’d get everyone to consent, but that’s unlikely, even if we knew where Mary went. Do you think your brothers would agree to something like what I just described?”

“Probably, but really, this sounds like a real pain.”

“Absolutely. Before we go down that path, check with your mother and brothers – and anybody else your father was close to, and be sure we can’t come up with a copy of the trust any other way. Let’s meet next week to set a course of action.”


Attorney Tim Barkley
The Tim Barkley Law Offices
One Park Avenue
P.O. Box 1136
Mount Airy
Maryland 21771

 (301) 829-3778

Wills & Trusts | Estate Planning | Probates & Estates
Elder Law | Real Estate | Business Planning | Estate & Trust Litigation