Problem Trustee Removal - Damages and Forcing Inheritance

Representing Wronged Beneficiaries in Southern California

When someone sets up a trust, they should carefully select a successor trustee to properly manage the trust property and oversee distributions to beneficiaries after the grantor's death. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, which includes complying with the terms of the trust, keeping beneficiaries informed, and avoiding the favoring of any beneficiaries or self-serving behavior.

Unfortunately, Hackard Law receives many calls from trust beneficiaries reporting problems with a trustee. Often a trustee will deny access to accounting information or engage in other wrongdoing that harms the beneficiary. Our trust litigation attorneys regularly represent beneficiaries in claims involving problem trustees, and we know how to take action to protect your interests and inheritance. Call today to discuss any concerns you may have regarding a trust or trustee.

Common Trustee Misconduct

Trustees have several tasks, including collecting assets and property, managing assets, communicating with creditors, and distributing income and property to beneficiaries in accordance with the trust document. California law gives a trustee significant power to move and control trust assets and, unfortunately, some trustees abuse this power to the detriment of trust beneficiaries. Trustees may sell trust discounted assets to favor the trustee or a certain beneficiary, refuse to distribute income to certain beneficiaries, and fail to provide trust information to certain beneficiaries.

When a trustee does not make distributions or provide information, it may be due to duplicitous motives or may simply be due to incompetence, laziness, or inexperience. In either event, when a beneficiary waiting on an inheritance requests information from the trustee, the trustee may become recalcitrant and defensive, only enhancing the problem. At this point, it is important to consult with a skilled trust litigation lawyer who can help to rectify the situation and protect your rightful inheritance.

Whether a trustee is wrongful or merely negligent, our attorneys take action to address any distribution delays. We can petition the court to order the trustee to provide accounting information, as California law requires. However, simply forcing accounting may not be enough to protect your rights, and removal of the trustee may be necessary and justified. While this can be a complicated process, our experienced attorneys regularly help beneficiaries faced with this matter.

Removal of a Problem Trustee

First, our trust litigation lawyers will begin reviewing all relevant documents, including a will, trust document, and designations for IRA and insurance beneficiaries. We will identify all interested parties and determine a distribution timeline based on these documents and beneficiaries. This bigger picture helps us nail down the motives of the trustee's misconduct. It is critical to conduct due diligence prior to petitioning the court to remove a trustee. Beneficiaries can experience roadblocks if the trustee refuses to even provide a copy of the trust, but our attorneys know how to address this type of situation.

California law allows trustee removal when authorized by the trust document, on a valid petition by a beneficiary, cotrustee, or grantor, or if the court determines on its own that removal is necessary. The following are possible grounds for removal:

  • The trustee breached the trust document
  • The trustee is insolvent or unfit to administer their duties for another reason
  • Cotrustees are hostile and cannot cooperate to properly administer the trust
  • The trustee refuses or fails to act
  • The trustee takes excessive compensation for a specific situation

Our litigators know how to persuade a court to grant the suspension or removal of a problem trustee and to have the court appoint a temporary trustee. We know how to expedite this process by requesting an "ex parte" proceeding. Informing the trustee of the petition and allowing them to provide a defense at this point will only jeopardize the trust further. Instead, the trustee will have the opportunity to address the matter of possible wrongdoing at a later date. Our priority is to protect the trust property as soon as possible.

Seeking Relief for Beneficiaries

Once the court removes a problem trustee, our trust attorneys then address any relief the beneficiaries deserve. This can include:

  • Forcing distribution of your inheritance
  • Damages for any depreciation or loss of trust property due to the trustee's breach
  • Damages for any profits to the trustee due to the breach
  • Damages for any lost income the trust would have earned had the breach not occurred

In addition, request that the court not allow the removed trustee to use trust assets to fund a defense. This is often a major contention in this type of case, and our attorneys fight to maintain the trust property whenever possible.

Trust litigation is complex and often contentious. It is important to recognize that not all trust attorneys have experience in the courtroom. Instead, they may focus on helping clients create and manage trusts, without dealing with the problems that may arise down the road. At Hackard Law, our attorneys regularly engage in dynamic trust and estate litigation and know how to design an effective litigation strategy that best protects the rights of our clients. This may involve going directly to the court, but may also involve mediation or reaching an out-of-court settlement. We are the trust litigators you can trust if you believe your inheritance is in jeopardy.

Contact a Los Angeles Trust Litigation Law Firm for More Information

At Hackard Law, we operate on the principle that all beneficiaries deserve to receive their full inheritance from a trust, in a timely manner and in accordance with a trust's terms. As a beneficiary, it is all too easy to feel helpless if you are not receiving distributions as you should or do not have access to information regarding the trust. When a trustee is uncooperative or insubordinate, it can be difficult to know where to turn.

The trust and estate litigation lawyers at Hackard Law are ready to help. We offer free initial consultations and can advise you of your legal rights and options. Do not delay in calling our office at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles (though we serve clients from throughout the state) or contacting us online.