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Secretive or Uncommunicative Successor-Trustees in Trust Disputes

Our Firm has a long history of handling various kinds of inheritance disputes involving living trusts.  Of all the types of trust disputes that Buffington Law Firm's trust litigation attorneys deal with, the most common scenario is that of the secretive or uncommunicative successor-trustee.  These are situations in which the trustors have passed on (often the parents) and have left a family "living" trust in which several of their now-adult offspring or other loved ones are the beneficiaries.  Usually the trustors (the now-deceased people who created the trust) have provided that one (sometimes more) of the beneficiaries will act as "successor-trustee" of the Trust.

The duties of a successor-trustee are similar to that of an executor of a will: his or her main duty is to carry out the written instructions in the Trust; usually this means to wind up the Trust and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries.  But there is one critical difference.  Wills are almost always subject to probate, which means that a will is wound up under the supervision of the Probate Court.  This is expensive and time-consuming, but can prevent malfeasance.  A Trust, by contrast, is intended to bypass the probate process.  The successor-trustee is expected to carry out the terms of the Trust without court involvement.

Unfortunately, sometimes successor-trustees abuse their positions of confidence.  When a successor-trustee fails to communicate openly and frankly with the beneficiaries, or be transparent concerning the finances of the trust, these are danger signs.  Our Firm has handled many cases where the trustee was doing everything he or she could to loot the Trust and leave little or nothing for the beneficiaries.  If you, as a beneficiary, are experiencing these danger signs there are legal remedies available.  It is not difficult for an attorney representing one or more beneficiaries to obtain a court order to bring the successor-trustee under the supervision of the Court.  In trust disputes our Firm has often obtained court orders whereby:

  • The Trustee is required to have a CPA do a complete accounting of all of the Trust financial transactions, to ensure that distributions are done fairly and properly;
  • The Trustee is ordered not to make distributions without prior permission of the Court.  This can prevent Trustees from running away with, or dissipating the Trust assets;
  • The Trustee is required to timely make distributions and wind up the Trust.

Courts will hold successor-trustees accountable for any wrongful acts, and beneficiaries who are confronted with these sorts of problems can sometimes obtain attorney's fees charged against the successor-trustee.  Successor-trustees owe strict fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries.  But this can usually only happen if the beneficiaries obtain competent legal counsel.

If you are faced with a rogue successor-trustee of a family trust you can call Buffington Law Firm for a free legal consultation.  In this consultation you will speak directly with one of our experienced trust litigation attorneys and discuss your options.  Usually we can deal with these problems firmly and economically.

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Buffington Law Firm, PC
8840 Warner Avenue Suite 300
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Toll Free: 800-835-2447
Phone: 714-450-6568
Fax: 714-842-6134
Fountain Valley Estate Planning Office