Trustee

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Trustee

My father died about a month ago; he has a trustee. I am the daughter that he forgot about until my adult life when he came back into it. He left money for myself and half-brother and I spoke with the trustee previously and she took all my information personal down and I have yet to hear back since about 3 weeks. I sent her an email last week but no response. I called her today and left a message and she called me back. She stated she could not remember speaking with me previously or that I gave her my information. She then stated that my half-brother and aunt had told her previously that she was the daughter and that she was to get the half of the money. She then said that she called my half-brother yesterday and he then told her that the information he had given her the trustee before is our aunt. She seemed confused and said that she would let her assistant know and would be distributing the money to us. She said that she did not remember talking to be before but she did not ask me for my information again. What should I do?

Asked on May 14, 2019 under Estate Planning, Arizona

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

Trustees are bound by two complementary, mutually reinforcing duties: 1) to obey the terms of the trust and any instructions in it; and 2) to honor their law-imposed "fiduciary duty." The fiduciary duty is the duty imposed on someone who is controlling assets for others' benefit to (a) be loyal to those persons; (b) not benefit themselves at the expense of those who are supposed to benefit (often called "no self-dealing"); and (c) to exercise the degree of care in managing the assets and carrying out their duties that a reasonable person would exercise over their own assets.
A beneficiary, or someone who has a reasonable basis or grounds to believe they are a beneficiary, who believes that a trustee is not following the terms of the trust or not honoring his/her fiduciary duty can bring a kind of legal action in county court traditionally called an action "for an accounting." In this action, as the name implies, the beneficiary asks the court to make the trustee "account for" his or her actions--that is, demonstrate that he or she is honoring his/her duties and following the instructions. If a trustee is not, the court can order him or her to do (or not do) certain things, or replace him or her as trustee.
This kind of legal action is significantly more complex than, say, a small claims suit. You are strongly advised to retain an attorney (like a trusts and estates lawyer) to help you.


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