In Bruno v. Hopkins (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 801, the California Court of Appeal broke new ground by finding that a beneficiary who
California trust disputes often involve allegations that trustees should be removed and suspended because they are acting improperly or have conflicts of interest.
Are six sibling co-trustees too many cooks in the kitchen? Many California trust disputes arise from disagreements among sibling co-trustees over how to administer Mom and Dad’s trust after the parents have passed. They all have a strong sense of what Mom and Dad wanted, but they don’t agree on what it was. Thus, trust and estate litigators can be described as “sibling lawyers.”
A recent appellate opinion illustrates such co-trustee conflict and shows the unpredictability of our judicial process. In Trolan v. Trolan (2019) 31 Cal.App.5th 939, the California Court of Appeal addressed issues of trust interpretation and trustee removal in a situation where five siblings were aligned against the sixth.
In California trust administrations, the trustee is in the driver’s seat. The trustee marshals the assets, deals with creditors, and (except in the case of ongoing trusts) gets them distributed out to the beneficiaries in fractional shares per the terms of the trust. But what happens when the trustee favors himself as a beneficiary, disfavors a family member he/she dislikes, or simply falls asleep at the wheel?
As illustrated by the Donald Sterling case recently discussed here, petitions to remove trustees are common in California trust litigation. Courts will suspend or remove trustees if the petitioner provides sufficient evidence that removal is necessary to protect the beneficiaries. This post will discuss trustee removal under California law from the beneficiary’s perspective. With apologies to The Sound of Music, “how do you solve a problem like trustee-a?”