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Biddle Law Estate Planning Blog

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Removal of a Trustee

A trustee plays a very important role in the administration of a trust. It is absolutely vital that you use a trustee that is trustworthy and responsible to carry out the distribution process and general trust management. Trustees are held to a higher standard because they are fulfilling the wishes of someone else and have control over property that is not their own. 

When trustees fail in these duties, they may have legal liability for their actions. They may also be removed for violating their obligations as well. Removing a trustee can be a complicated process, however, and having an attorney to assist with this procedure can be a valuable resource.

Why You Want to Remove a Trustee

There are several reasons why you may want to remove a trustee. You may have more than one reason as well. Below are just a few examples of situations where removal of a trustee would be warranted.

Failure to Adhere to Specific Trust Terms

The trustee has both legal obligations and responsibilities as set out in the trust document. A trustee can be removed for violating any of these standards. 

Failure to Meet Legal Obligations

Trustees have several duties in their role. They act in a fiduciary capacity, which means that the trustee must safeguard trust assets so that they are not wasted or become devalued. The trustee should serve as a prudent investor and generally should not be too adventurous when investing trust funds.

Conflicts of Interest or Self Dealing

The financial decisions that the trustee makes should be in the best interest of the trust, not for some other more selfish reason. When the trust acts in a way that will benefit him or her, but it would be detrimental to the trust, then the trustee has engaged in self-dealing that may warrant removal. 

Other Potential Reasons for Removal

In addition to the above specific circumstances, there are many other reasons that beneficiaries may want to remove a trustee. As such, as long as the beneficiaries can show “good cause,” they will have grounds for removal. A few examples include:

  • When the trustee is insolvent or unfit to manage money
  • When the trustee has a physical or mental health condition that makes him or her unfit to administer the trust
  • When lack of cooperation or hostility compromises the administration of the trust
  • Where the trustee’s compensation has become excessive

The Trustee Removal Process


Beneficiaries or other interested parties can petition the court for removal of a trustee. Only those with standing can petition for removal, which generally means that only beneficiaries or their legal guardians can file a removal request in probate court. 
It is important to note that some trust documents build in a removal process that may be faster and easier than petitioning the court. Be sure to look at the trust document before you start this process.

Once the petition is on file, the court will give you an initial hearing date, which you must serve on all interested parties, including the trustee and all other beneficiaries. At the hearing, the court will examine the petition and ask whether anyone will object to it. The trustee will likely object, and the court will permit some time for him or her to file a written response to your petition.

Next, your probate attorney will be able to help you through the discovery process so that you can collect evidence to present your case. Contact Biddle Law today for more information about this process and how you can get started.


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