Estate PlanninG

What to Do if You Can’t Get Ahold of Your Trustee

Did you know that trustees have a duty under the law to communicate with beneficiaries and keep them reasonably informed about the progress of the trust's administration?

This duty to inform may require the trustee to give beneficiaries a copy of the trust document, provide information regarding the anticipated timeframe of the trust administration, and prepare an annual accounting (summary of the trust's income and expenses). Unfortunately, some trustees believe they can do whatever they want or are ignorant of the law, and leave beneficiaries in the dark about what's happening with the trust.

So, what should you do if you can't communicate with your trustee?

Try a different way of contacting them

First things first, if your trustee has not responded to you, try examining your contact method. How have you tried to contact them?

If you have left them a phone message, try emailing them. If a text message has received no response, try sending a letter. Don't be aggressive or hostile - no one wants to respond to someone like that, even if it is the law. If you can't speak civilly to the trustee, keep all your communication in writing, be clear about your questions and requests, and do so without accusations or threats.

If multiple methods of communication haven't received a response, it might be time to involve an attorney.

Get the attorney involved

Involving the attorney is a two-fold process.

First, you can try contacting the trustee's attorney if they have one. If a trustee doesn't understand their duty to inform and communicate, the attorney can encourage them to comply or, if authorized, communicate the information on their behalf. Depending on the terms of the legal engagement, the trustee may have already arranged for their attorney to handle all communications with beneficiaries. You can contact the attorney by phone and follow up with an email or letter outlining the information you seek and your attempts to contact the trustee.

Second, you may want to seek out your own attorney to represent you. An attorney can give you an impartial point of view and provide you with information about what your rights are and what steps you can take to enforce them. If emotions are running high between you and the trustee, having an objective intermediary who can authoritatively describe the trustee's duties and the beneficiary's rights can help get the flow of information going.

File a petition with the court

If your efforts to communicate with the trustee still aren't getting a response, your last option is to file a petition with your local court. It's important to consult an attorney with experience in trust administration before seeking court involvement, which often results in further delay and costs. Suppose a trustee doesn't respond to the petition. In that case, the court can remove the trustee and hold them liable for any damages the beneficiaries have suffered due to the trustee's failure to comply with their duty to inform. Additionally, filing a court petition opens an array of legal tools such as subpoenas, depositions, and requests for documents that can help you obtain the information you're looking for, either from the trustee or directly from third parties such as banks or financial institutions. Filing a petition with the court shouldn't be your first step, but if a trustee refuses to respond, it might be your only option to get the information you're entitled to.

A trustee is legally obligated to communicate with beneficiaries and provide them with certain information. But if for some reason they're unresponsive, you should first give them the benefit of the doubt and try changing up your method of communication. If that doesn't work, try contacting the attorney representing them or hire an attorney of your own. As a last resort, you may have to file a petition with the local court if the trustee remains unresponsive.

If you have questions about a current trust administration that you are part of, give us a call to schedule an appointment so we can discuss your concerns. Call Santaella Legal Group, serving all of California, at (925) 831-4840