What to do when the Trustee doesn’t Respond
Marci is the beneficiary of her great-aunt Margaret’s trust. Margaret told Marci that the trust would pay for all her educational expenses, no matter which university or degree she sought. Marci has contacted the trustee, Tom, several times. She has sent copies of her enrollment information, tuition deadlines, and receipts for her expenses. Unfortunately, Tom is not responding to her calls or emails.
What do you do if your trustee is not responding?
While a trustee has a duty under the law to communicate with the trust beneficiaries and keep them informed about the progress of trust administration, some trustees fail to comply with their duty to inform. When trustees don’t communicate, beneficiaries are left in the dark, and the trustmaker’s requests for how their accounts and property will be distributed go unfulfilled.
Depending on state law, trustees should share the following information with beneficiaries:
- A copy of the trust document
- Information on the anticipated timeline for trust administration
- A summary of the trust’s income and expenses
Whether your trustee is ignorant of the requirements for a trustee under law, willfully neglecting the trust, or is busy with other matters and delayed in their response, here are some steps to take to restore contact with the trustee.
Check Your Contact Method
Emails are sometimes accidentally deleted. Phone messages may get lost. Technical problems may occur. Check your contact methods. If you have tried one contact method, try another. While emails and voice mails are convenient, try to reach a person. You may find that the trustee has extenuating circumstances that have made it difficult for him to respond. Try sending a registered letter to see if you get a response.
While it is frustrating to not receive a response, try to maintain a calm and friendly composure. The trustee has a duty to respond, but may be less likely to do so if the conversation has become argumentative or hostile.
Responding to questions takes time. To make the process as easy as possible for your trustee, ask your questions in writing. Be very clear about your questions or requests. If you have tried multiple ways to contact your trustee and are still getting no response, it is probably time to involve your attorney to protect your rights as a beneficiary.
Involve Your Attorney
Two attorneys may be involved in the trust process: an attorney retained by the trustee and an attorney you retain to represent you.
Contact the trustee’s attorney to seek advice on how to contact the trustee and get answers to your questions or responses to your requests.
If the trustee is unaware of their duty to communicate with and inform the beneficiaries of progress in managing the trust, the attorney can inform them of their duty.
If authorized, the attorney may communicate on behalf of the trustee. The trustee may have arranged that all communication must go through the attorney, and this is why you have not received a response.
As with the trustee, contact the attorney using more than one communication method. Be clear and concise in your communication and outline the many attempts you have already made to receive the information you need.
You may also want to contact your own attorney for advice on the next steps you can take. An attorney can tell you with an impartial point of view what your rights are and the steps you can take to enforce them.
When emotions run high, communication falters. Having impartial attorneys communicate the duties of the trustee and the beneficiary’s rights may be the best solution.
File a Petition with your Local Court
If you have tried to communicate with the trustee alone or through attorneys and have still not received a satisfactory response, the next step may be to file a petition with your local court.
Before taking this step, consult with an attorney with experience in trust administration.
If the trustee does not respond to the petition, the court has the power to remove the trustee and hold them liable for any damages the beneficiaries have suffered as a result of their failure to comply with their obligations to inform beneficiaries.
The court petition opens the door for you to access legal tools such as subpoenas, depositions, and requests for documents so you can receive the information you need.
Filing a petition with the court should not be your first step if you are not receiving a response from a trustee, but it is a viable option if you have tried other ways to get the information you are entitled to receive.
Whether your trustee is not responding due to ignorance of their duties and responsibilities or for another reason, try multiple methods to contact them using clear, concise, impartial communication.
If you still cannot get your questions answered or requests addressed, contact either the trustee’s attorney or your own for assistance.
Contact an attorney with experience in trust administration to discuss filing a petition in your local court.
We encourage you to contact us if you have questions about trusts in general, trust administration, or want to establish a trust.