Estate Planning: Uncooperative trustees
Estate planning

Estate Planning: Uncooperative trustees

Q: I am the beneficiary of a trust set up by my grandparents. I’m supposed to get money when I reach certain ages but I haven’t received anything yet. When I asked my uncle about it, he makes excuses and refuses to give me a copy of the trust. What should I do?

A: First, if you are a beneficiary, you are entitled to a copy of the trust. The trustee may be able to limit what he sends you to the provisions that apply to you, but you are entitled to a copy of the document. If he won’t voluntarily give you a copy, you have options.

Assuming that you obtain a copy of the trust, the first thing you should do is review its terms. A lot of issues that arise between a trustee and a beneficiary result from misunderstanding. One or both parties may not understand what the trust actually says or requires. Don’t assume that you understand the trust just because someone told you. Look at it.

If, after reviewing the trust, it appears that the trustee isn’t doing something he is supposed to do, call him. Set up a time when you can meet to discuss your concerns. Start by being nice. Usually it’s a misunderstanding that the parties can work out. Usually there is nothing sinister involved.

If the trustee won’t meet with you or the two of you don’t agree, it may be time to call for help. Call your attorney and discuss your concerns. Get an opinion from someone in the know. If the attorney agrees that something isn’t right, a letter to, or a meeting with, the trustee may help.

As I said, a lot of these issues are simply a misunderstanding, or someone not knowing what they should be doing. I’m not saying that trustees are never knuckleheads, but usually it’s simply a matter of not everyone being on the same page.

Assuming that you can’t resolve the issues by talking, it may be time to take legal action. Trusts aren’t normally supervised by courts. However, when there is an issue involving a trust, it can be presented to a judge by docketing it.

Once docketed, the court has jurisdiction and the fun can start. If it reaches this point, it is likely going to be expensive. A colleague of mine is involved in one that I’ve been following just for giggles. The last hearing I attended had more attorneys in the courtroom than beneficiaries. I’m glad I don’t have dog in that fight.

In my experience, most trust issues can be resolved amicably. Since there is a legal document, it’s usually just a matter of getting everyone to do what they are supposed to do. Disagreements can and do arise, but a well drafted trust can avoid a lot of them.

If you can’t work it out, there are options. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time and money to resolve them.

Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.


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