Dear Len and Rosie,
My father died a year ago. He had a trust that named his business partner, Angus, as the trustee instead of any of his children.
There are four of us and we don’t get along that well. I assume Dad thought we would fight, and wanted to prevent that.
But now we are all concerned about Angus’ behavior. He showed us copies of the trust, and we all get equal shares, but he has made no distributions, saying it’s better if he continues to manage the assets.
He also sold trust real properties to himself. And he even gave Dad’s girlfriend $20,000, even though she’s not a beneficiary.
He says Dad told him to do it. None of this seems right, but is it?
Without seeing a copy of the trust, it’s difficult to answer your questions without guessing.
Your father’s trust includes written instructions for the trustee to follow. Angus can’t make up his own rules.
He can’t continue to hold everything in the trust indefinitely unless the trust says so. Angus cannot decide what he thinks is best for you.
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Even if Angus is right, and you plan to waste your inheritance on drugs and casinos, he can’t withhold your share, even if it’s for your own good.
Likewise, if the trust didn’t give your father’s girlfriend $20,000, then she gets nothing. Angus can’t give away your money unless you say it’s OK.
Your father’s verbal instructions don’t amount to a legal trust amendment. The law draws a red line between your father’s verbal and written intentions.
If the court relies on statements your father is rumored to have said, then everything is up for grabs.
Anyone can step forward and claim your father promised them a well-deserved gift. That’s too messy, so the law imposes a burden on us to state our wishes in writing.
It’s harder to guess whether Angus was entitled to purchase your father’s real properties.
Since he was your father’s business partner, there could have been a buyout agreement between them. The trust could also have dictated the terms of the sale.
However, judging from Angus’ other actions, he may have breached his fiduciary duty as trustee.
He may have sold himself properties at the expense of the beneficiaries.
If you haven’t done so yet, you and your siblings should ask an estate planning attorney to review the trust, and tell you what it really says.
Len and Rosie