Choosing a trustee is hard — but getting rid of one is harder. Beneficiaries who choose to switch trustees can find the process costly, drawn out, and unpleasant. But it may be getting a bit easier.
Can you swap your trustee for a new one?
Many good reasons exist for why a trust beneficiary might want to change trustees. The beneficiary might have moved to another state and prefer a trustee who is closer. The trust investments might have evolved and a trustee with different investment expertise might be needed. Modern trusts normally contain provisions that allow removing a trustee in these types of situations. However, for trusts that do not have such provisions, which includes most older trusts, removing a trustee can be difficult. Unless the trustee voluntarily resigns, the beneficiary will have to go to court and prove that the trustee has done something negligent or worse.
A recent article in Barron’s, titled “Dumping a Trustee,“ explains that in some states it is getting easier for beneficiaries to remove unwanted trustees. This is especially true in states that have adopted the Uniform Trust Code. The Code empowers beneficiaries to remove a trustee on a no-fault basis. This means the beneficiary still needs a good reason for the request, but that reason does not have to rise to the level of wrongdoing by the trustee.
As the article details, if bank mergers have caused the original bank trustee to no longer exist or to have merged with a much larger out of state bank, that can be a good enough reason to change trustees.
If you are a beneficiary considering removing a trustee, then regardless of any provisions in the trust you should first consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. That is the best way to learn what the rules are in your state and how any trust provisions might affect trustee removal.