“My parents set up a Trust to avoid Probate, but now that they are gone, the Trustee won't give us a copy of the Trust, and although we have asked for information about the assets, the Trustee doesn't tell us anything. It's been almost two years; our parents' home is still sitting vacant, and we think that the Trustee's niece has now moved into the property! What can we do?”
Regretfully, this happens more often than one hopes. Surely this is not what the parents intended when they chose the Trustee.
The primary goal of a living Trust is to avoid the lengthy and expensive court-supervised Probate (the process of legacy transfer). But the one positive thing about Probate is that the Executor has to account and report to the Probate Judge, and the possibility of their actions going unchecked is fairly low. Conversely, a Trustee enjoys full autonomy from court interference (hence, the low cost of Trust administration, and the ability to accomplish tasks much faster than if in Probate), and often, full discretion in managing the trust property, and in making distributions to the beneficiaries.
What if the Trustee turns out to be the wrong person and abuses this discretion? What rights do the beneficiaries have?
A Beneficiary actually has many rights granted to them by the Probate Code, such as the right to receive asset information and Trust accounting, the right to know the value of assets, liabilities, income and expenses, including Trustee fees, and the right to demand efficient and timely distributions. While a Trustee can be held accountable by the Probate Judge, with the assistance of an experienced attorney, a Beneficiary can get pretty far in the information-gathering process before he/she may need to involve the courts, which is always an expensive proposition.
If you are a named Trustee and don't know what the law expects of you, it is your duty to get informed. A Trustee may inadvertently get “in trouble” by not knowing what, when and how to do their job, and may be personally liable for breaching the many duties imposed on them by the Probate Code.
Contact The Law Offices of Maria N. Jonsson, Trusts & Estates in Marina del Rey, on 475 Washington Boulevard. Contact us to learn more.
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