The first step to challenging a trustee is to file a complaint with the Superior Court of the county where the trust resides. The court makes the final decision on whether to remove the trustee.
If you want to challenge a trustee who is acting outside of his or her authority, you must also file an action in probate court. This is where you can get a court order that removes the trustee and appoints a new one.
The power of a trustee to manage trust property is based on their ability to exercise discretion. A trustee’s powers are limited by the terms of the trust instrument and by state law. Trustees are usually required to follow the instructions in the trust document unless doing so would be contrary to the common interest of beneficiaries or contrary to the law. They cannot make decisions solely for their own benefit.
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Trustees may be challenged in court if they take actions that are contrary to what the terms of the trust say. If a trustee takes actions that contravene their duties, such as using trust assets for personal benefit, failing to invest wisely, or mismanaging a trust account, they may be held liable in court for any resulting losses.
In most cases, trustees can only lose money that is transferred into their name. But this is not always true — some trusts allow trustees to borrow funds from themselves or others on behalf of beneficiaries and then use those funds as they wish while still retaining legal control over them until they are repaid with interest at maturity.
The importance of consulting with a specialized trust litigation attorney cannot be overstated here. It’s critical to have peace of mind but also to have a better time in court, should there be a problem or a legal hurdle.
What to know about trust and estate litigation in California
In California, the rules governing the administration of estates are outlined in the Probate Code. Trusts are governed by a separate statute, the Trusts and Estates Code.
If you’re served with a petition to challenge a trustee in California, it means that someone has filed a legal complaint against your trustee. The complaint might be based on claims involving your estate or trust.
If a person files a lawsuit against a trustee, it’s called an “action.” The person who files the lawsuit is called the “plaintiff,” while the person who is being sued is called the “defendant.”
Trustees have certain duties under state law — including managing trusts and estates for their beneficiaries — and there are penalties for failing to perform those duties properly. If these duties are not performed properly, trustees can be held personally liable for any losses suffered by beneficiaries or other third parties.
There are 8 stages of trust and estate litigation. These are:
- Investigation and research: Information is power. Before mediation or trial, it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of your case. A legal consultant can be approached at this stage to assess how solid a case you can build.
- Pleading: This is essentially the brief of the petition being filed.
- Discovery: The process of obtaining evidence that can be substantial and admissible in court is called discovery. This is tedious work and incidentally, quite expensive.
- Mediation: Mediation is considered to be a better solution than trial and any judge in the Bay Area will likely call for mediation first. Both parties send their briefs to the mediator and it all ultimately culminates into a to-and-fro between two rooms.
- Expert witness depositions: The testimony of expert witnesses is very significant in these cases. Allegations don’t carry much weight on their own and require specialists, such as forensic accountants.
- Trial preparation: Cases that have little likelihood of settling out of court and have a date already need extensive preparations. Central Texas Litigation offers a range of services to help you out in trial preparation. Their team of copy technician professionals is ready to assist with evidence gathering, cross-examinations, direct examinations, statements, exhibit lists, and other essential tasks. With their help, you can ensure that your case is thoroughly and efficiently prepared.
- Trial: Bench trials are more common in probate cases. These trials don’t have a jury and a decision is made mainly on the evidence presented. Simpler cases last a day or two, while more complex ones can easily take weeks.
- Appeal: Those who lose a case can appear in the California Court of Appeal. These matters are considered anew without the previous court’s decision. Only a small fraction of appeals succeed in court.
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A challenge to a trustee’s decision does not necessarily mean that the trustee has acted unreasonably. Instead, it means that the trustee’s decision was not in accordance with the terms of the trust agreement or statute.
The most common grounds for challenging a trustee’s decision are:
- The grantor did not intend for a particular act to be performed by a particular person or entity;
- The grantor did not intend for some part of his or her property to go to a certain person or entity;
- There has been no change in circumstances since the grantor made his or her will or trust; and/or
- The person named as successor trustee is not qualified to serve as such.
If you’re having any kind of difficulty then it’s highly recommended that you consult with a litigation attorney who specializes in this field. Experience is very important. This might be your first time challenging trustee, but an attorney with many similar cases under the belt can make quick work of many of the challenges and hassles that you are about to face in your legal journey.
A reputable name in this business is that of Barr & Young attorneys. Not only are they proficient in legal work of all types, but they are especially notable for their litigation work in matters of wills, trusts, and estate planning.