Can a Trustee Be Removed From a Trust?

A probate court judge has the ability to remove a trustee.

A probate court judge has the ability to remove a trustee.

Trustees have the responsibility of distributing and monitoring property and assets held within a trust. These duties require significant work, and the law holds trustees to a high standard. Failure to meet the high standards imposed by the law may necessitate the removal of the trustee by either the beneficiaries or the probate court.

The Power to Remove

The power to remove a trustee rests with several people. The beneficiaries, or the people to whom the trust assets are left to, can remove the trustee if given removal power in the trust document. If not, the beneficiaries must ask the probate court to remove the trustee by showing good cause. A trustee may also ask for removal if he knows that the trustee obligations cannot be met. Trust documents may also assign specific individuals with the power to remove a trustee.

Failure to Abide By Specific Trust Terms

In addition to the obligations set out by law, a trust document can outline specific directions that a trustee must follow. If the trustee fails to meet these outlined directions, the beneficiaries can remove the trustee if given removal power or can petition the probate court for removal.

Failure to Meet Obligations

Trustees have several obligations to meet while acting in the capacity of trustee. One of the most important duties includes fiduciary duties. This means the trustee must act prudently to ensure none of the trust assets and property goes to waste or devalues. Failure to do so through either negligence or refusing to act may necessitate removal. The probate court determines whether the trustee failed to meet his obligations and appoints a new trustee if wrongdoing is found.

Self-Dealing and Conflicts of Interest

Trustees must make financial decisions in the best interest of the trust and the beneficiaries. Any implication of self-dealing, or acting in a manner to enrich oneself, may require the removal of the trustee. Fiduciary duties require the trustee to act in the interest of the beneficiaries. Acting on another person's behalf while carrying out the terms of the trust violates the trustee's duties, may cause a conflict of interest, and gives cause for either the beneficiary or probate court to remove the trustee.

Good Cause

Probate courts understand that the law cannot outline every reason why a trustee must be removed from a trust. As such, beneficiaries can petition the court for removal upon the showing of good cause for removal. This gives beneficiaries and the trustee an opportunity to state their reasons as to why the current situation necessitates the removal of the trustee.


About the Author

David Montoya is an attorney who graduated from the UCLA School of Law. He also holds a Master of Arts in American Indian studies. Montoya's writings often cover legal topics such as contract law, estate law, family law and business.

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