Someone who has been named the trustee of a trust has the same kind of fiduciary responsibilities as the executor of an estate has. They have a duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiary(ies) of the trust and to abide by the law in doing so.
The specific duties of a trustee depend on what type of trust they’re managing and what the goals and purpose of the trust are, as detailed by the trust’s creator or “settlor.” Sometimes, for example, a trust is set up with the intention that the assets in it will provide a source of regular income to the beneficiary. That may require ensuring that the assets are invested and managed wisely so that they grow in value or at least remain stable.
In many cases, parents place their adult children’s inheritances in “conditional” trusts rather than give them assets directly. The trustee then has the crucial role of distributing the assets as the trust creator outlined – for example, a certain amount each year or only for specific purposes (like paying for college or a new home).
The trustee-beneficiary relationship can be an inherently tense one. It’s easy to resent someone who has control over money that’s intended for you – even if they’re only following the directions they were provided. That doesn’t mean you have the right to remove them.
The grounds for removing a trustee under Ohio law
A beneficiary or a co-trustee (if there is one) are the only ones who can ask a probate court to remove a trustee after a trust settlor has passed away. This effort is only legally justified under three circumstances:
- The trustee has “committed a serious breach of trust.”
- The trustee has shown an “unfitness, unwillingness, or persistent failure…to administer the trust effectively.”
- The trustee is refusing to cooperate with other trustees to the point where it “substantially impairs the administration of the trust.”
The court has a responsibility (as does any trustee) to do what’s in a beneficiary’s best interests. If the trustee isn’t doing that, a court can remove them and appoint someone else (or ask the alternate to take over, if one was named).
Whether you believe there are grounds for removing a trustee or you are the one whose removal is being sought, it’s important to seek legal guidance to protect and assert your rights.