It’s not uncommon for the beneficiary of a trust to be unhappy with the person appointed to be the trustee by their deceased loved one. Whether it’s an older sibling, a stepparent, a friend or a colleague of your loved one that you’d never previously met, the beneficiary-trustee relationship can be an inherently fraught one.
However, not being happy with a trustee or not believing they’re disbursing the assets as generously as they should aren’t grounds for having them removed. As long as the trustee is adhering to the instructions provided by the person who created the trust and manages the assets responsibly, they generally can’t be removed.
The trust and the law determine the grounds for removal
If you’re a trust beneficiary and believe you have grounds for removing the trustee, you should first read through the trust document to see whether there’s a removal clause. Many people will include one that stipulates conditions under which a trustee can be removed and by whom.
If the trust itself doesn’t give you grounds for seeking removal, you may be able to ask the probate court to remove and replace them. However, the court will need to follow the law. New York State law allows for removal of a trustee “who has violated or threatens to violate his trust, who is insolvent or whose insolvency is imminent or apprehended or who for any reason is a person unsuitable to execute the trust.” Typically, removal is warranted when one or both of the following has occurred.
- Serious breach of trust: Trustees have a fiduciary duty to manage the trust for the beneficiaries – not themselves. A trustee can be removed trustee if they are taking or otherwise redirecting assets from the trust. Refusing to provide legitimate requests for information about the trust to the trustee can also fall under this category.
- Not effectively administering the trust: Often, a trustee is tasked with ensuring that the assets in the trust increase or at least don’t lose value. If they make poor investment choices and the trust loses significant value, this may warrant the removal of the trustee.
If you believe that you have grounds for removing and replacing a trustee, it’s crucial that you don’t try to deal with the matter on your own. Your best option is to seek experienced legal guidance.