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5 Reasons to Remove a Trustee From Your Trust

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

When it comes to managing a trust for the benefit of you or your loved ones, removing a trustee is sometimes the only way to deal with problems that may arise.

This can be especially important when trusts are used to provide for relatives and dependents both in life and after death.

With the assets held in trust being so crucial, here are five common reasons to remove a trustee from a trust:

1. Failure to Comply With Trust Terms.

A trustee is a person who is endowed with the legal ownership and management of trust assets, which are held for the benefit of the beneficiaries. With this grant of power comes the obligation for the trustee to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and fulfill the terms of the trust.

If the trustee ignores or fails to abide by those trust terms, the beneficiaries can petition the court to remove him or her.

2. Neglecting, Mismanaging Trust Assets.

The trustee has a fiduciary duty to manage the trust assets in such a way that does not waste or devalue a trust's funds. So when a trustee breaches that duty out of negligence or incompetence, the beneficiaries may petition for removal.

3. Self-Dealing.

Similar to neglecting or mismanaging trust assets, a trustee who uses his or her control over the funds in a trust to his or her own benefit breaches the trustee's fiduciary duty to the trust's beneficiaries. This can prompt removal by the probate court.

However, when trustees are large financial institutions and the beneficiaries sign conflict-of-interest waivers, self-dealing may legally occur.

4. Good Cause.

When beneficiaries and trustees butt heads on how to distribute trust funds, beneficiaries can make their case more generally to a probate court why there is good cause for trustee to be removed. These reasons must be rational and reasonable given the circumstances.

5. Hostility Toward Beneficiaries.

Even the paragon of peace, Nelson Mandela, had beneficiaries fighting with trustees over his trust. A significant breakdown of communication or hostility between trustee and beneficiary can lead to removal.

In any of these instances, beneficiaries must petition a probate court for a trustee's removal, and then attend a court hearing to make it official. Because removing a trustee can get complicated, it's often wise to consult with and employ an experienced trust attorney before you take this step.

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