A trust is often used in lieu of, or in addition to, a Last Will and Testament to distribute assets to beneficiaries within an estate plan. If you are a beneficiary of a trust, you are dependent on the Trustee to administer the trust properly in accordance with the terms as set forth in the trust agreement. Most of the time, the beneficiaries of a trust receive their distributions as planned without any serious problems; however, it is possible for problems to occur during the administration of a trust. If you are a beneficiary of a trust, a Westport trust attorney at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. wants to ensure that you know your rights in the event a problem does arise.
A trust is a legal relationship where property is held by one party for the benefit of another party. The person who creates a trust is referred to as the “Settlor”, “Trustor” or “Grantor.” The Settlor transfers property to a Trustee, appointed by the Settlor. The Trustee holds that property for the trust’s beneficiaries as well as invests trust assets and administers the trust terms according to the terms created by the Settlor. The beneficiary of a trust can be a person, an organization (such as a political party), a charity (such as a church), or even the family pet. There must be at least one beneficiary but may be an unlimited number. In addition, a trust may have both current and future beneficiaries.
As a Trust Beneficiary, You Have Rights
If you have never before been the beneficiary of a trust, you likely don’t know what rights you have. One thing you need to be clear about is that even though you may not have received the assets held in the trust yet, you have a legal interest in those assets because of your designation as a beneficiary. As a beneficiary you have rights that are inherent to any beneficiary in any trust agreement by law. In addition, you may also have rights that were specifically granted to you by the Settler in the trust agreement. Because the Settler of any trust creates the trust terms, the Settler can provide beneficiaries with rights that go above and beyond the rights that exist by law. For example, a Settlor often grants the beneficiaries the right to remove the Trustee by majority agreement. In addition to any rights that are granted by the Settlor within the terms of the trust agreement, as a beneficiary the law grants you the right to:
- Distributions – if you are a current beneficiary, you have a right to receive any distributions due to you under the terms of the trust agreement.
- Communication/information – you have the right to be kept informed about trust business and to be able to communicate with the Trustee of the trust.
- An accounting – you have the right to receive a full accounting showing things such as what assets the trust holds, how much interest has been earned by the trust, and what expenses have been paid by the trust. This is an especially important right to remember if you are concerned about the way in which the Trustee is administering the trust.
- Petition a court to remove a Trustee or terminate a trust – as mentioned above, the Settlor can specifically grant beneficiaries the authority to remove a Trustee; however, even if the Settlor did not expressly grant the beneficiaries the direct authority, a beneficiary always has the right to petition a court for the Trustee’s removal. The difference is that if you were not granted the direct authority by the Settlor, you will need to convince a judge that the Trustee should be removed. To prevail on such a petition, you will likely need to prove that the Trustee has done one (or more) of the following:
- Mismanaged trust assets
- Engaged in self-dealing
- Failed to follow the trust terms
- Created a conflict of interest
- “Good cause” (this is the “catch-all” for reasons that do not fit neatly into any of the common categories)
Contact a Westport Trust Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about your rights as the beneficiary of a trust, contact an experienced Westport trust attorney at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. by calling (860) 548-1000 to schedule an appointment.
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