If you are a beneficiary of a trust, you have likely experienced some challenges in communicating with your trustee. There are limits to what your Trustee can do, or say, however it is always reasonable to expect courtesy and prompt responses (even if the answer is “No”).
What happens if you really wish you had a different trustee? Here are some suggestions to discuss with your attorney as you seek a replacement:
Know why you want to replace the trustee – Whether a corporate trustee, or a family member trustee, you may not “like” them, but they might very well be doing a decent job. If you are receiving accountings as mandated by the trust, and you are receiving your distributions as expected, consider the time frame of the remaining trust administration, before seeking a change. We recommend asking for what you want (emails rather than letters, or virtual meetings instead of no meetings, etc.) before embarking on change.
If there is not too long to wait until the administration is complete, changing trustees might only cause expense, without desirable results. For instance, the estate is being settled, you have received most of your funds, and now it is just a matter of getting tax clearance, so there may not be a need to make any changes. If you are the beneficiary for long term trust, such as for your lifetime, then a change might be quite worth the time and expense.
Selecting a replacement – What is it about the current trustee that makes you unhappy? This list is going to be very helpful in your interview process. Are there other beneficiaries who need to agree to any changes? What are the provisions in the trust which allow a change in trustees, and do you have the power to make this change? With the answers to these questions, your attorney can help you identify some replacements, and hopefully, you and your fellow beneficiaries can all agree to the new trustee.
Informing the current trustee – Very often, the trust document will have language describing the process of changing trustees. It is reasonable to allow the current trustee to close out their work, before granting authority to the new trustee. Sometimes, a court order will be required. You may want the current trustee to account for all of the expenses and income, maybe even finish a tax return filing, so that the transition makes sense. As anxious as you may be to make a change, there is no need to incur additional expense by rushing the process. Sometimes this “hand off” process can take a couple of months, or much longer, depending on the nature of the assets and issues involved.
No matter the specifics of your situation, we strongly recommend consulting with an estate planning attorney who is familiar with trust administration. This way you will have an advocate who can help you understand what to expect as the change is initiated and completed.