Ridding yourself of a bad Trustee is no easy task. But there are a few ways you can use to help increase your chances of removing a Trustee. It all starts with documenting your efforts to work reasonably with him or her.
Duties of a Trustee
Probate Code section 16060 requires a Trustee to keep you reasonably informed about the Trust administration. When was the last time you heard from your Trustee? Keep track of when you talk, when you receive correspondence in the mail, or when you receive emails. The longer your Trustee goes without talking to you, the more likely they are breaching their duties as Trustee. And, a Trustee breaching his duties is one of the grounds to have them removed.
Probate Code section 16061 requires a Trustee to respond to your reasonable requests for information. If you have asked your Trustee about the Trust and its finances, and the Trustee ignores you, then that’s a potential breach of duty. Document that. Take note of what information you have asked for and when you have asked for it. Of course, your requests must be reasonable. You can’t expect to get a year’s worth of financial statements in an hour. But, if you asked to see the last three months of bank statements within two weeks, and the Trustee fails to comply, then you have something.
Document how well the Trustee is complying with the distribution standards of the Trust. Probate Code section 16000 requires the Trustee to follow the Trust terms. If you are entitled to receive your share of the Trust “outright,” or “outright and free of trust,” then the Trustee must hand over your share within a reasonable time. There is no bright-line rule of what a “reasonable” time is, but you can tell when things have taken too long. For example. If you have a Trust with only cash in it, you should be able to receive your share of the cash within three to four months. If there is real estate, then maybe it will take a bit longer. When beneficiaries wait a couple of years to receive anything, that’s a problem.
Even if your share of the Trust is required to be retained by the Trustee, there should be a distribution standard. Many Trusts will say distributions can be made to Trust beneficiaries for their health, education, maintenance, and support. That is a broad distribution standard that requires the Trustee to find out from you what your needs are and then make distributions to meet those needs. Too many individual Trustees break this rule and refuse to distribute according to this standard.
What if a Trustee is Failing to Meet Their Duties?
Anytime the Trustee is refusing or failing to meet the Trust’s distribution requirements, you need to make a note of it. Also, you have the right to request a distribution from the Trustee, note that too. Start by making a small request for distribution and then increase the amount as you go along. If the Trustee refuses to distribute, or worse yet refuses to talk to you about it, write that down. Include the date, the nature of your conversation, and any follow up you do.
By keeping track of the efforts, you have made to work with your Trustee, and noting where the Trustee has failed to live up to his or her duties, you have a better chance to get the Trustee removed. It can take time, but patience pays off.