Trusts are some of the most effective tools anyone with an estate plan can use, and when planned and run well, they offer strong property protections and peace of mind that few other things can. Trusts also require human trustees, and this is where many estate plans run into trouble.
If you have ever had a conflict with a trustee, you know how frustrating and costly a bad trustee can be. The good news is that the law offers several justifications for removing and replacing trustees in a way that keeps the matter civil and ultimately keeps your wishes and your property secure.
In most cases, a trustee must violate some part of their duty to justify removal, but this is not as big of an obstacle as it may seem. With careful and a level-headed approach, you may have several tools available to help you remove a troubling trustee before they cause any more damage to the trust and its beneficiaries.
Reasons to remove a trustee
In broad strokes, trustee removal is an option when the trustee takes advantage of their position, performs poorly in their duties or finds themselves in damaging conflict with beneficiaries.
A trustee position is one of trust, literally, and grants the trustee a great deal of power over assets to the person in that position. In return for reasonable compensation, a trustee must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and must follow the terms established when the trust was created.
If the trustee does not comply with the terms of the trust, or if they perform so poorly in the position that the underlying assets suffer, this is typically grounds for removal. Similarly, if a trustee uses their power over the assets to benefit from the position beyond their compensation, this is also grounds for removal.
There are ways to remove a trustee who, technically, performs their job well but causes interpersonal conflict. Most courts recognize that beneficiaries and trustees must remain in good relationship, and when a trustee acts with hostility toward beneficiaries, this is also grounds for removal.
Building your case against a trustee
Regardless of the reasons you believe your trust needs a trustee removed, it is important to build a strong case with documentation. Clear documentation of violations and hostilities on the part of trustees make your case stronger. A well-crafted legal strategy helps clarify to a court why it is in the best interests of beneficiaries and the trust itself to remove a trustee, keeping a trust secure while preserving the legacy of the trust’s founder.