Buffington Law Firm’s Trust dispute attorneys have broad experience in dealing with cases in which a trust successor-trustee is failing to properly carry out his or her duties as trustee. As many people know, trusts are a legal device that can allow a decedent’s estate to avoid probate. Essentially, a trust allows a successor-trustee to distribute the trust assets and otherwise administer the trust without the involvement of the probate courts. Probate can be an expensive and time-consuming legal process and trusts lighten the courts’ workload and can lower administrative expenses by avoiding probate.
Unfortunately, almost all successor-trustees, the persons who administer trusts after the original makers (“trustor” or “trustors”) pass, are persons with very little legal experience. Sometimes the new trustee (“successor-trustee”) views his or her role as trustee as a form of benefit or perq. It is far from uncommon for these new trustees to regard themselves as having gotten a lucrative benefit by being designated as the new trustee. Sometimes the trustees delay distribution of trust assets for years while they themselves enjoy the use of such assets. Sometimes the trustees move into a residence owned by the trust and live there rent-free. Other times a trustee may take improper trustee fees, or use unqualified family members to do “work” for the trust at unreasonable rates and cost. Unfortunately, sometimes even when a trustee in these situations retains legal counsel to advise them, these improper actions continue. A successor-trustees’ attorney, after all, represents only the trustee, not the beneficiaries. Sometimes successor-trustees will delay the liquidation and distribution of trust assets to the beneficiaries for a protracted time, thereby thwarting the real intent of the deceased trustors.
For a successor-trustee to act in this fashion is a serious breach of legal duty. A successor-trustee owes fiduciary duties to the trust itself and to the beneficiaries. A conscientious successor-trustee will know that the job is a burden, not a benefit. Unfortunately many successor-trustees believe that they can disregard the terms of the trust and the intent of the trustors for their own benefit. They place their own interests ahead of the other beneficiaries.
When this happens, and it happens often, beneficiaries need legal counsel. Sometimes the simple act of a beneficiary retaining counsel is enough to “level the playing field” and allow beneficiaries to deal with the trustee on a more equal basis. Most commonly it is necessary to the beneficiaries to bring a court action to force the trustee to honor the plain terms and meaning of the trust.
Buffington Law Firm’s trust llitigation attorneys have decades of experience in dealing with a broad spectrum of trust disputes. If you are in the kind of situation described by this article either as a beneficiary or a trustee, we invite you to contact us for a free legal consultation . All consultations are with actual qualified trust litigation attorneys and are entirely confidential and with no obligation.