October 28th, 2022 in Trusts
The trustee won’t communicate with me. What can I do? I received a call from Jerry. Jerry is a beneficiary of his parent’s trust in Santa Clara County along with his siblings. One of his siblings is the trustee. Unfortunately, the trustee is not communicating with him. The trustee refuses to communicate what the assets of the trust are, how the trust funds are being invested, how the house will be handled and what is happening with the trust administration. The trustee knows Jerry has significant health issues and lives out of state. The trustee probably believes Jerry is powerless and can’t do anything because he is in charge. A bad trustee uses his position of control to abuse the beneficiaries.
It is not uncommon for a power hungry trustee to believe they are in charge and can do whatever they want. They do not believe they owe anything to the beneficiaries and the beneficiaries are powerless to do anything to challenge the trustee. After all, they are in charge. That simply is not true. The California Probate Code specifically lists certain duties and behaviors the trustee must follow in addition to the rules contained in the trust document. This includes the duty to communicate with the beneficiaries and keep the beneficiaries reasonably informed of the trust administration.
The trustee must deal with the beneficiaries even if the trustee does not want to. That is part of the job as trustee. The trustee should be responding within a reasonable amount of time to the beneficiary’s inquiries. The trustee has an affirmative duty to keep the beneficiaries of the progress of the trust administration, including the timing of the trust distributions and sale of assets.
As a beneficiary, being argumentative, confrontational or yelling at the trustee will not serve your interests as a beneficiary and do anything to keep the lines of communication open. If you are unable to have civil conversations with the trustee, it is best to keep communication in writing. Or better yet, hire an attorney to represent you. The attorney can provide you with impartial advice and let you know your options and rights and take steps to enforce them. Sometimes, the trustee needs to be educated about what his duties are and an attorney can do that in a neutral matter. Sometimes this is all that is needed to open the lines of communication.
If the trustee still will not respond, then a petition with the court will need to be filed. The Santa Clara County Superior Court Probate Division and San Mateo Superior Court Probate Division takes cases when the trustee is not doing his or her job by not communicating very seriously. By filing a petition, you also have immediate access to the formal discovery process such as subpoenas, depositions, demand for documents and written questions as ways for you to force the trustee to provide you with information pertaining to the trust administration. With these tools you can obtain information not only from the trustee but directly from third parties such as financial institutions.
In Jerry’s case, we filed a petition in the Santa Clara Superior County Probate Division. We were able to obtain financial information related to the trust administration and the trust assets directly from the banks, financial institutions and other third parties. At the hearing the judge presiding over the matter at the Santa Clara County Superior Court Probate Division suspended the trustee and placed my client as the successor trustee.
When you have a trustee that refuses to provide you with information or communicate with the beneficiaries, you need to take action. The enforcement of your rights is filing a petition with the Court to enforce your right to obtain the information and get the answers you are entitled to. The court may decide to remove the trustee based on his refusal to communicate with the beneficiaries.