Help! What Happens When a Trustee Doesn't Want to Work With the Trust Beneficiaries

By Michelle Kaminsky, J.D.

Help! What Happens When a Trustee Doesn't Want to Work With the Trust Beneficiaries

By Michelle Kaminsky, J.D.

Most people understand that trustees play important roles in the management of trusts, but if you're the beneficiary of a living trust, your relationship with the trustee is one aspect of the trust worth cultivating. A cordial and cooperative relationship with solid communication between a trustee and beneficiaries is desirable to all parties involved.

That said, if you are having communication issues and have a so-called "bad trustee" in charge of the living trust for which you are a beneficiary, there are some avenues you can explore to help the situation. Before discussing possible solutions, it's helpful to discuss what a trustee is and what a trustee is responsible for doing with regards to the trust.

Trustee Duties and Responsibilities

A trustee is the person selected by the grantor to oversee a trust's assets in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. To that end, all trustees owe several duties to beneficiaries, including duties of loyalty and prudence, as well as a fiduciary responsibility to distribute trust assets in accordance with the trust deed, which is the document that creates the trust.

Moreover, a trustee is responsible for investing assets, handling other administrative aspects of the trust, and communicating with the beneficiaries regarding the trust. A trustee is also expected to show no favoritism among classes of beneficiaries or commingle trust property with their own personal property.

If a trustee breaches their fiduciary responsibility to beneficiaries, they can be held personally liable through court proceedings. When violations fall short of duty breaches, and there is simply poor or no communication, we encounter a difficult situation when a trustee doesn't want to work with a trust's beneficiaries.

Dealing With a Bad Trustee

If you find that you are having no communication—or simply difficulty getting on the same page as your trustee, but there are no actual duty breaches—there are several ways you can work to improve the situation. For starters, if you cannot communicate effectively with them verbally, writing down your concerns about their actions or inactions as trustee of the living trust in a letter is a good option. Not only can you present your thoughts in a clear, rational form, you also have a record of the communication in case of any future litigation.

At this stage, you may even wish to get a third party, such as an attorney, involved so your communications to the trustee can come across as clearly and concisely as possible. A lawyer can advise you on whether your expectations are reasonable and help you get to the results you want. Legal counsel can also let you know if you would directly receive the information you want by contacting banks and other financial institutions.

As a final action, you may have recourse through court action. Through the court process, you would gain access to discovery tools like subpoenas and depositions to help you obtain the information you are seeking regarding your beneficiary status of a living trust.

Overall, as a beneficiary, you want to be able to rely on your trustee to work with you and not against you. Open communication can go a long way in developing a stable working relationship, so it's in your best interest to work on how to reach your trustee before involving the court, which can become costly and take some time to reach its conclusion.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.