Hackard Law, our California law firm representing
clients in trust, estate and probate litigation, is regularly called upon to enforce a wronged
beneficiary’s right to an accounting from an uncommunicative, recalcitrant or duplicitous
trustee. While California probate courts will follow
the law and order a trustee to provide an accounting, this is only part of what is often
necessary to safeguard the beneficiary’s trust interests and to prevent further harm
to an innocent beneficiary. Trustee actions leading to the necessity of
filing a petition for a court-ordered accounting often include the trustee’s refusal to make
trust distributions. Waiting on an inheritance is a continual source
of frustration to estate and trust heirs or beneficiaries. Trustee inaction may stem from sheer incompetence,
inexperience, poor counsel, mismanagement, laziness, or the simple desire to be in control
and stay in control. Whether the reasons for the failure to distribute
the inheritance are wrongful, negligent or innocent, the delay must be addressed. Engaging a law firm like Hackard Law will
begin a process of document review (the will, revocable or irrevocable trust, insurance
and IRA beneficiary designations), the preparation of timelines and a list of interested parties. All of this helps to focus on the reasons
for the trustee’s failure to do his or her job. An important part of dealing with a problem
trustee is to understand that in California, the trustee is given a great deal of power. Statutory rules governing trustee authority
and power are uniform statewide, with there being slight variations as to local rules
of court. Local rules must be reviewed and understood
when it comes to challenging a trustee’s actions, as the local probate rules in San
Francisco will be different than those of San Diego, Los Angeles or Sacramento. A trustee’s job is to marshal or collect
assets, communicate with creditors, and distribute assets or income to beneficiaries in accord
with trust terms. It is not at all unusual that a trustee favors
himself or someone else as a beneficiary, attempts to sell trust assets to a favored
person at a discount, or freezes some beneficiaries out of income, principal and information. There is often sufficient information to support
the suspension or removal of a trustee. Courts will move to protect beneficiaries
and do not take the responsibility lightly. Due diligence required before filing a petition
to remove a trustee includes a thorough review of the trust. Of course, sometimes this is not possible,
since part of the trustee wrongdoing or misdeeds may be the failure to provide a beneficiary
or heir with a copy of the trust. Hackard Law regularly represents wronged beneficiaries
who need to solution to a trustee’s silence coupled with inaction. The ultimate public policy behind California’s
trustee laws is the preservation of the trust property. Trust, probate and estate litigators will
often seek an early suspension of the existing trustee’s powers and the appointment of
a temporary trustee. These early actions are often done on an expedited
or “ex parte” basis to preserve the trust, while allegations of wrongdoing can be proven
or disproven at a later hearing. While these early suspension efforts are paid
for by the challenging beneficiaries, such challenges usually include a request that
the probate court judge not use trust assets to pay legal counsel for the defense. This can be a major point of contention. If you are a wronged heir or an abused trust
beneficiary and your inheritance has been delayed or denied, call us at Hackard Law
at 916-313-3030. We are happy to discuss the elements that
may support legal intervention to protect your rights.