I Am A Beneficiary Of My Grandma’s Trust. The Trustee, My Uncle, Refuses To Talk To Me. What Can I Do?
This is an unfortunately all-too-common scenario in which a well-meaning grandparent inadvertently pits her children and grandchildren against one another. Having named your uncle as her trustee, Grandma placed her trust and confidence in him that he would abide by her last wishes. As such, your uncle has a fiduciary duty to you and the other beneficiaries. He is required to treat you with good faith, candor, and honesty, and keep you abreast of the status of the trust. These need not be weekly updates, but it would be reasonable for you to expect quarterly or bi-annual updates.
If your uncle is not forthcoming regarding your rights as a beneficiary of the trust, the status of the trust assets, and his actions as trustee, you have a couple of options.
First, have you made a request in writing for a copy of the trust or an accounting? This is the cheapest, easiest way to approach the trustee, and may avoid the hard feelings that inevitably arise once litigation ensues, or a lawyer gets involved. If you can maintain effective communication with the trustee, all the better. Keep in mind your uncle may not fully understand how to effectuate his role as the trustee. Perhaps a kindly-worded, gentle request for an update might remind him that he does have an obligation to keep you informed.
If step one is unrealistic or unsuccessful, you may want to retain a lawyer for a small fee to send a demand letter to the trustee. The letter may remind the trustee of his fiduciary duties and request that he provide a copy of the trust, for example, and give a deadline to respond, explaining that a failure to respond will result in you filing suit against him. A formal letter from your attorney could nudge your uncle to take your request seriously.
Finally, if the demand letter is ineffective, it may be time to take your uncle to court for a breach of his fiduciary duties and failure to provide an accounting. Once the lawsuit is filed, you can demand a copy of the trust, subpoena relevant financial records, and serve discovery requests on the trustee. You may also request that the court remove the trustee, provide an accounting, and/or distribute the trust assets pursuant to the trust. Unfortunately, litigation can be costly. You should prepare yourself for a long, arduous, and expensive battle. Fortunately, however, if you prevail, you may be able to recover your attorney’s fees.
Shanika Chapman is an attorney with Oklahoma Estate Attorneys, PLLC who practices in the areas of probate, trust litigation, and estate planning. She received her J.D. Degree, graduating magna cum laude, from the Oklahoma City University School of Law.