Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers information for you to reflect upon while you are setting out looking for an estate planning attorney to help protect as much of your assets as you can. For more comprehensive information contact Baron Law Cleveland to draft your comprehensive estate plan to endeavor to keep more of your assets for your heirs and not hand them over to the government by way of taxes.
Trusts are common estate planning tool. They are used to plan for retirement, provide for needed elder case, ensure Medicaid and other government aid eligibility, and provide for special needs children. A critical part of any trust is its trustee. The trustee is the primary agent responsible for managing trust assets and money and ensuring that the instructions and intent of the settlor are followed. At the end of day, if everything goes as planned, a trust will continue to exist and operate long after its settlor has passed. As such, the trustee is often solely responsible for the health of the trust and the welfare of trust beneficiaries.
With great power, comes great responsibility. Such is the case with trustees. In the same vein, however, most crime comes from opportunity. If there is nothing to steal, there is no chance of theft. The opposite also holds true. If you were left in an empty room with $300,000 dollars and no one was watching, how honest would you be? How honest could the ordinary man be? As such, tragically, too many trustees are found out too late to be lazy or untrustworthy and they must be removed and replaced. As with most things regarding trusts, Ohio law has set down rules and procedures to follow if you want to replace a trustee. Naturally, as with any legal question, always consult with an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney before you do anything.
Removal of a Trustee
Removal of a trustee requires serious consideration and appreciation for its consequences. Not only is it nuanced process requiring the learned help of an experienced Cleveland estate attorney, but it can also run counter to the express wishes and intent of the trust settlor. If the settlor is alive, and the trust revocable, replacing a trustee isn’t too big of a deal. But if the settlor is dead, and the trust irrevocable, now decisions have to be made that may subtract from the settlor’s goals.
A first trustee was an individual who the settlor had the utmost faith to carry out their wishes and guard their property. To go and replace them with another will affect how trust property is managed, how and when trust property is distributed, how much the trustee will demand as compensation, and the relationship between the trustee and beneficiaries. Since the power to replace a trustee shouldn’t be taken lightly, Ohio law placed rules and procedures on how and when it can be undertaken.
To start, the power to remove a trustee is primarily codified in O.R.C. § 5807.06(A). Wherein a “settlor, a cotrustee, or a beneficiary may request the court to remove a trustee, or the court may remove a trustee on its own initiative.” This by itself doesn’t say much, but evidently pretty much anyone with a legitimate interest in the trust may act to replace a trustee. The ability to do something, however, should always be paired with a valid reason why. This is where experienced Ohio estate planning counsel comes in handy. An attorney is in the best position when a trustee is just being difficult rather than derelict in their duties.
Why Remove a Trustee
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Generally, replacing a trustee should only occur in a handful of circumstances, most of which are codified in Ohio law. Per
O.R.C. § 5807.06(B), a court may remove a trustee for any of the following reasons:
The trustee has committed a serious breach of trust;
Lack of cooperation among cotrustees substantially impairs the administration of the trust;
Because of unfitness, unwillingness, or persistent failure of the trustee to administer the trust effectively, the court determines that removal of the trustee best serves the interests of the beneficiaries.
All these reasons go to a trustee’s inability to carry out their duties effectively or downright committing crimes as a trustee. A surly or unpleasant trustee is not grounds for removal, regardless of how much you dislike them. Only in extreme circumstances of incompetence, dereliction, or illegality should an action for trustee removal be undertaken. Your estate planning attorney is in the best position to judge when and if this threshold has been reached.
Importance of Successor Trustees
So, you’ve successfully removed an unsuitable trustee, now what? Naturally, a new trustee must be appointed and, of course, Ohio law provides for this possibility. Per O.R.C. § 5807.04 (C), if there is a vacancy in the trustee position, new trustee is selected using the following order of priority:
(1) By a person designated in the terms of the trust to act as successor trustee;
(2) By a person appointed by someone designated in the terms of the trust to appoint a successor trustee;
(3) By a person appointed by unanimous agreement of the qualified beneficiaries;
(4) By a person appointed by the court.
This is why selecting appropriate successor trustees, or drafting adequate methods to select them, are so important, though it is often seen as a throwaway detail when drafting a trust. At the very end of this list, a probate court has the authority to appoint a new trustee if no other methods exist. This is not an appetizing prospect for most settlors. The last thing settlors want is a court taking control out of their hands and appointing someone they don’t want or don’t know. The whole point of going through the long process of trust creation is a guarantee control of money and assets in specific and delineated ways. To have everything go right out the window because of improper successor trustee appointments is foolish. As such, proper thought and planning must go into your trustee and successor trustee appointments.
Most people don’t expect their first, or even second choices, for trustee to die, refuse appointment, or just not be very good at the job. An experienced Ohio estate planning attorney can help with the vetting process and also provide much needed instruction and guidance to selected trustees to make sure they understand the gravity of the position and possess the knowledge to do the job correctly and efficiently.
Helping You And Your Loved Ones Plan For The Future
About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.
Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.