REMOVING A TRUSTEE UNDER MISSOURI LAW
Our firm very often receives calls about removing a trustee under Missouri Law. Often these calls are from unhappy beneficiaries who explain that they are kept in the dark by trustees of a trust which clearly states that they are entitled to an accounting and for trustees to regularly communicate with them about their activities as a trustee. Often the issues are different.
Removing a trustee through litigation is not impossible. The statute for trustee removal under Missouri law is RSMo. 456.7-706 (https://casetext.com/statute/missouri-revised-statutes/title-xxxi-trusts-and-estates-of-decedents-and-persons-under-disability/chapter-456-trusts-and-trustees-the-uniform-trust-code/section-4567-706-removal-of-trustee )
The removal statute lists the reasons a trustee could be removed by a court: serious breach of trust; lack of cooperation between co-trustees substantially impairs administration; unfitness, unwillingness or persistent failure to administer effectively; others, see statute.
It must be understood by a party seeking removal that there are a few impediments right out of the box with removing a trustee.
First, courts are generally reluctant to remove the person serving as a trustee because it is undoing the will of the trust creator.
Second, it’s been said that the only commonality between trust beneficiaries is that they are almost all unhappy with the trustee. In other words, it’s common for trustee beneficiaries to be unhappy with the trustee and to want them removed. After all, trustees are often carrying out the orders of the trust creator to only permit distributions to the trustee on the basis of need or for other limiting reasons. \
Third, in cases which are primarily about the financial activities of a trustee, filing a suit gives the plaintiff subpoena power. Wrongful actions by a trustee can often be verified by bank account statements and other evidence of financial wrongoing.
All of that said, if a trustee is acting in a way that requires they be removed, a court will act and do so, or more often suspend a trustee until the court is able to verify the actions of the trustee, review their accountings or look over evidence requiring their removal.
It’s important to note that the removal of trustee does not generally mean the party seeking removal can install their own new trustee out of the blue. Rather, the court will inquire as to whether any alternate trustee(s) are willing to serve in place of the removed trustee. If not, there may be an additional aspect of the case which is to determine who will serve in place of the removed trustee.
Finally, as a trust litigation attorney Creve Coeur, Missouri, I try to emphasize with all my trust litigation clients that you do not get a jury in almost all probate cases in this estate. To be clear, a trustee removal case is filed in the probate division of the Circuit Court (usually) where the trust is administered.
Out of state trustees, therefore, will often require the removal suit be filed in the state and county within that state where the trustee lives. Other states may have different laws which may negatively or positively affect the outcome of the matter.
As a final word, understand that under Missouri law, the beneficiary seeking removal cannot directly seek to have the lawsuit financed by trust funds. In other words, the beneficiary will file the lawsuit out of pocket. Missouri Probate courts have the ability to require the attorney fees of a filing party to be paid for by the trust but this is not a given and a subjective power of the court to do so.
Our firm, in the right case, will consider a contingency fee arrangement with clients seeking removal of a trustee and/or for other violations of their duties. However, the firm is highly selective about cases taken on contingency. Nevertheless, in the right circumstances, this can be an ideal fee arrangement for the firm and the client.
Charles J. Moore is the founder of Legacy Law Center, a law firm that has received many awards for customer satisfaction in the areas of probate and trust litigation. He is rated as Excellent by legal website Avvo and his firm has a 4.9 out of 5.0 star rating on Google.