Good afternoon. My name is Jonathan Barlow. I'm a probate and trust attorney here at Clear Counsel Law Group. Over the course of my practice, I have done not only the regular administrations of trusts and probates, but I've dealt with countless disputes and litigated matters and trust and estate litigation.
One of the questions that often comes up is a concern about a trustee: if the trustee is acting inappropriately or if there is concern that the trustee is mishandling the money, spending the money, hiding the money, doing something like that.
You Need a Lawyer That Thinks About Legal Strategy, Not Just Lawsuits
My clients often ask me, "What can we do? What can we do to stop a trustee to prevent the trustee from continuing these bad actions? It appears to me that they're at risk of losing the money of the trust, so I'm not going to receive what I'm entitled to receive? What do I do? Do I got into court? Can we try to resolve this?"
This is really important that you have an attorney who has handled these and has a feel for that. There's no sheet of paper that we can go through, a questionnaire, and say, "Is this happening? Is that happening? Yes? No?" At the end of it, it tells us, "Go into court immediately," or "You could probably try to resolve this informally."
I can tell you this, from my experience, where there's smoke, there's usually fire. What I mean by that is if have an inclination or indication that the trustee is doing something inappropriate, you think that there's transactions that shouldn't be occurring, money going out that shouldn't be going out, you're probably right.
There's usually something going on behind the scenes with that trustee that you should be concerned about. You need to know, "Do we go into court immediately?" That's usually the best option.
Like I said, where there's smoke, there's fire.
The best chance you have to stop a trustee, to prevent that trustee from running away with the rest of the money, or losing the rest of the money is to get a court involved as soon as possible so that a court can put a freeze to those accounts, put a freeze to the trustee's actions, potentially remove the trustee out of the picture altogether so that somebody else can handle this.
Of course, going into court is expensive. It can be very time consuming. You throw yourself into, essentially, a lawsuit situation, which can take a couple years to resolve. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Those are considerations you need to think about in determining whether to go into the court route.
When an Informal Approach Might Be More Appropriate to Stop a Trustee
Sometimes my clients will ask me, "Do you think we can informally resolve this? Do you think we can get them to settle this matter?"
Certainly, there are times where that's the best approach, where you get a feel that based on the family relationship, we have a sense that the trustee is willing to cooperate, that the trustee would be likely to come in and sit down with us, or their attorney would come in and sit down with you, share information, share account documents, tell us what's going on, and see if we can't resolve the dispute.
They may have every indication of wanting to do that, too, and not running away. Certainly, we want to have a feel for that and know is that the best way to do that? Should we approach them informally through a letter, through a phone call, and say, 'Can we try to resolve these questions that we have?'"
However, you just don't want to wait too long.
An Example That Proves the Rule
I have a colleague who tells this horror story. Early in their career, early in their practice, they were doing this. They were pursuing a trustee who they had every indication was not acting appropriately. There appeared to be money missing.
The trustee had, in fact, said, "I'm not going to give you what the trust says you're supposed to get." They tried to work this out with the trustee's attorney. They asked the trustee's attorney to give them account documents.
In fact, the trustee's attorney did give them account documents, account statements from the bank account, that appeared to show that all the money was still there in the bank account.
Months later, almost a year later, they finally found out that those account statements were completely fraudulent. The trustee had gone into those account statements and made photocopies, actually cut out sections of transactions, large sections, pages of transactions, and put the document back together, changed the numbers.
It was fantastic and amazing what this trustee did to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions and make it appear that money was there when it wasn't. She committed a blatant fraud on them. They didn't know about it until far too late.
By the time that they realized the fraud, got a court judgment against the trustee for over $1,000,000, the trustee was literally gone, nowhere to be found.
My good friends out there, my good colleagues, would be interested to know if you know where Beverly is and you know Beverly owes over $1,000,000, let me know and we'll put her in touch with my friends over here. They'll be glad to hear about it.
An Experienced Probate Lawyer Can Help You Stop a Trustee
We want to avoid those situations. We want to act promptly, whether prompt means get into court as quick as possible or whether prompt is let’s get them into our office to talk about it because we think that has the best chance of success.
We need to do that. It's not worth waiting.
If you have sense that there's something going wrong, you're probably right and your probably entitled and need to get the information to answer your questions. I personally have a lot of experience doing that here at Clear Counsel. It's one of our specialties is proceeding with these disputed matters and getting resolution for you.
Give me a call. We do a free consultation to review the facts, to try to get a feel for what we think.
Do we got to go into court immediate?
Can we resolve this informally?
Give me a call for that free consultation. I'll be glad to talk to you about this, answer your questions, and get you the resolution you need.