Can I Get Rid of a Lousy Trustee?

You would not believe how many calls I get each week from potential clients saying that their trustee is mishandling their trust.  The end question from the potential client is always the same, “Can I get rid of this lousy trustee?”

There are primarily three (3) mechanisms through which a trustee can be removed from a trust: (1) if the trust document itself provides a manner of removal, (2) if the trustee has violated his fiduciary duties and/or statutory requirements, and (3) if the trustee agrees to resign as trustee. 

Of course, the first item I always have to determine in these scenarios is whether the problem is actually with the trustee, or if it is with the trust itself?  If the trustee is simply following the requirements of a trust, then putting in a new trustee is not going to change anything.  For example, if the trust specifically says the trustee is to give the beneficiary $100.00 a week, and the potential client is mad that he is only getting $100.00 a week, then changing the trustee is not going to help.

Assuming the trustee is the problem, you would first look to the trust document itself to see if it maintained language allowing for the removal of the trustee.

Many trusts will maintain clauses that provide beneficiaries, co-trustees, or others with the power to simply remove the trustee.  Usually, if granted the power to do so, these individuals inform the current trustee of his/her removal, and simply appoint a new trustee.  Many trusts have specific individuals that are known as trust advisors/trust protectors whom, among other designated powers, have the ability to remove trustees.  If the trust includes language that would allow for the easy removal of an unwanted trustee, this is generally the best method to utilize.

If the trust document does not allow for a specific method for removal of a trustee, then determine if he/she may have violated his/her fiduciary duties, requirements under the trust, and/or violated relevant statute in the performance/non-performance of his/her duties.

Essentially, what the above comes down to is if the trustee is not doing what (s)he is supposed to do under the trust, then there is likely cause to remove her/him.  However, there would be a level of egregiousness that would likely need to be surpassed before a Court would order the removal of a trustee.  If the trustee is in material violation of his/her duties, then you would bring forth an action.  In Washington state, that action would likely be under the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act, or TEDRA for short.  For more information on filing a TEDRA petition, check out Nowakowski Legal PLLC’s intro video on Inheritance Disputes and Estate Litigation by clicking here.

Alternatively, in the rare event that a trustee would actually be amiable toward his/her removal from the position, then a simple written acknowledgement of resignation will generally suffice. 

The resignation of a trustee is relatively straightforward, so I won’t bother you with the details. However, if you are interested in reading the always exciting RCW on the matter, I would direct you toward RCW 11.98.029.

If you have any further questions regarding a trustee, or if you are interested in having an attorney assist you in removing a trustee, Nowakowski Legal PLLC would be glad to assist.  Contact us for a free consultation today!

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