Berman & Asbel, LLP

Resolving disputes between trustees and heirs

There are several reasons why a Pennsylvania resident may want to make a trust part of their estate plan. Trusts provide testators with an additional layer of control if they worry that heirs will spend their inheritances unwisely. While trusts can also allow estates to be administered away from the public scrutiny of the probate process, disputes between trustees and heirs can sometimes become contentious.

Heirs sometimes view trustees as obstacles standing between them and what they consider is rightfully theirs, and many of the disputes over trusts are caused by suspicion, mistrust or simple misunderstandings. These matters can often be resolved by open and frank discussions. However, there are legal steps that heirs can take when talking does not provide a satisfactory outcome. This is because trusts are enforceable legal documents, and trustees can be compelled to perform the duties expected of them.

When heirs are unhappy about the way that a trust is being administered, they should first ask for a copy of the trust agreement. They should then study this document carefully until they understand both their rights and the obligation of the trustee or trustees. If studying the trust agreement does not resolve the problem, or if it appears that the trustee or trustees are acting inappropriately, heirs may seek satisfaction by filing a lawsuit.

An estate planning attorney may be able to assist in these endeavors by examining trust agreements and explaining the legal duties of the parties involved. When a trustee is acting truculent, the lawyer may send them letters demanding that they perform their required duties. An attorney may also explain how testators may be able to avoid these issues by having conversations with both heirs and trustees when the trust is drafted.

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