Many California trust beneficiaries raise questions about unfair and untimely distributions from a family trust. Determining beneficiary rights under California law can be done methodically, depending on available trust information. Are you concerned that the family trustee is distributing too much money to other family members in Sacramento? Are there ways to force the return of that money back into the trust?
Experienced trust litigators start from the beginning: Reading the trust in entirety. Trust documents have a lot of "legal speak," and the time spent examining the trust may feel like watching paint dry. That said, we need to read the trust and see what exactly the document says.
Trustees and Co-Trustees may have discretion, but that discretion is not to be abused. The trust document, as well as statutes and case law, may define an envelope of discretion - outside of which trustees risk lawsuits for breach of fiduciary duty.
Trust distributions are addressed in a variety of ways. This is dependent on the trust itself. For example, the trustee may be required to divide trust assets equally. Equal should mean equal, but issues may still arise as to the value of personal property distributions, as well reductions for estate tax. Some distributions are to be made free of any reductions attributable to estate tax, while others are to be reduced by the amount of estate tax that is proportionate to the distribution.
The original trust and all of its amendments are critical to an understanding of a beneficiary's rights and trustee's duties related to the trust. Trustee's duties may be given wide latitude, depending on the terms of the trust that address discretion.
In broad terms, a discretionary trust provides that a trustee may use his or her own discretion in determining how and when a beneficiary is to be paid. That said, it is our experience that trustees who abuse their discretion in one way often violate trust terms in another. A beneficiary's right to recover from an abusive trustee is not lost simply by the existence of a discretionary clause.
Trust, probate and estate litigation is often hard fought. The trustee may have a war chest at hand - the trust assets - and use those assets for attorney's fees - and then again, maybe not, depending on early trust litigation skirmishes.
Getting back to the original question: The family trustee is giving unfair distributions - can you sue in Sacramento Probate Court? If the trust is being administered in Sacramento County, then trust litigation may rightly be venued in the Sacramento Superior Court. Remember that some cases may be brought (on different causes of action and maybe different parties) in the Probate Court and Civil Court at the same time.
Before you head into a Northern California Probate Court, seek counsel. Your trust lawyer should address the positives, negatives, costs, and methods of payment in your case. With knowledge in hand, you may then make a prudent decision for the protection of your rights and the prevention of further harm to you and your family.
The professionals at Hackard Law are happy to respond to your inquiries for help on your trust, estate or probate matter, whether it's in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer or elsewhere in Northern California. We are committed to excellence in the representation of our clients. We work to make sure trustees "do the right thing" and safeguard your interests.
Find us at:
10630 Mather Blvd.
Mather, CA 95655