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Written by Thomas Upchurch
The grantor of a trust typically chooses the trustee very carefully: This person or entity will be charged with maintaining assets for the good of the trust’s beneficiaries and making decisions about how to oversee and distribute those assets in accordance with the grantor’s instructions.
In most cases, that careful selection pays off. The designated trustee may be the ideal person to administer the trust. In other situations, the trustee may be less than ideal, but still honest and competent. Occasionally, though, the trustee violates his or her fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust, turns out to be unqualified, or is for some other reason no longer appropriate.
When that happens, Florida law provides a procedure for removing the trustee, so he or she may be replaced by someone who is willing and able to properly administer the trust according to its terms.
The Florida statute regarding removal of a trustee sets forth specific reasons a court may order removal. These include:
Florida courts generally don’t remove a trustee lightly, so it’s important to assess the situation with an experienced estate planning attorney and determine whether removal proceedings are the right answer in your specific circumstances. Involuntary removal of a trustee requires significant evidence, which means that preparing for a removal proceeding can be time-consuming and expensive. While removal may be necessary to protect the beneficiaries, it should generally not be undertaken as the result of minor disagreements, personality clashes, or other problems that do not significantly impact the administration of the trust or the interests of the beneficiaries.
When a trust is established, the grantor will typically designate one or more successor trustees. The successor trustee steps in and becomes trustee if the originally appointed trustee becomes unwilling or unable to serve in that capacity. If a successor trustee has been designated and is willing and able to serve, he or she will shift into the role of trustee upon removal of the previous trustee.
If there is a gap in the transition, the trustee retains some obligations to safeguard trust property until it can be delivered to a co-trustee, successor trustee, or other appropriate entity. He or she is also required to make such delivery within a reasonable time after removal, although the outgoing trustee may be entitled to retain certain sums to settle outstanding obligations.
An experienced trusts and estates attorney can help you assess the need to remove a trustee, the likelihood of success, and the time and financial investment likely required to achieve your goal. Give yourself the advantage that comes with knowledgeable guidance—schedule a consultation with Upchurch Law now.