California Trustee – Some Of The Things That Could Keep You Up At Night

Trustee responsibilities are extensive and they arise from different sources including the wording of the trust itself, statutes, and case law. Of course, you have to cover all areas of your trustee responsibility, but here is my list of primary issues that could keep me up at night as a trustee. If you are a trustee, you want to do it right. If you are a beneficiary, you want to receive that to which you are entitled. And there can be a lot of angst, stress, misunderstanding, and disagreement in these situations. A significant part of my practice includes trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and disputes – including contentious administrations. This list is not in any particular order. You might also notice that I update and republish this discussion from time to time as it includes important points that can apply to most trust administrations.

  1. Do you understand what the trust says and requires? This might sound basic, but it isn’t always.
  2. Have you marshalled and safeguarded the assets that are in or that are supposed to be in the trust? Are the assets in the trust, and are they under your control?
  3. Do you really understand your legal responsibilities including not only the wording and requirements in the trust, but also what the probate code and case law require of you? As a trustee you are a fiduciary. You have one of the highest standards of care, responsibility, liability and unbiased fairness and good faith required by law.
  4. Do you have a game plan for the steps required to accomplish the administration of the trust, including the time and timing that it will take? Completing the administration typically takes longer than most people would think. And this alone can cause disagreements, stress, and disputes. There is a court case on this issue, and there are court cases on many of these issues – basically, the case held that a trustee needs to conduct the administration process reasonably expeditiously, but the court decided to not to say that the administration must be “fast” or “quick” or completed in the “fastest” manner. In other words, there is a degree of reasonableness here.
  5. Are the trust assets being invested, managed and recorded properly and prudently? You need to evaluate and manage the returns and the risks, in accord with the wording of the trust and your statutory and case law fiduciary duties. So, for example, the stock market goes up and down. If the market goes down, is your approach to the portfolio management designed to help you avoid liability for losses, not just because the market went down, but also because you have implemented a portfolio approach and might allow you to net losses against gains? And are your investments prudently diversified, also taking into consideration possible risks? You will find additional posts on this blog about investment responsibilities.
  6. Do you have and use the proper fiduciary demeanor and decision-making approach required of a trustee?
  7. Is the trust cash flow prudently managed? You might, for example, through no fault of your own have a trust with declining asset values or liquidity issues, or there might simply be expense and distribution timing issues.
  8. Do you know what to do if you have beneficiaries who are disagreeing with your decisions, or who are threatening litigation, or who have initiated litigation?
  9. Do you know what information you must or possibly should provide to the beneficiaries and when to provide it, including, for example, possible accountings and other information? Even if an accounting isn’t required, sometimes I recommend that a trustee prepare an accounting or some form of an accounting anyway. And, of course, under all circumstances you should and usually must keep accurate and complete records. Even if an accounting is not required, or is not required to be prepared to cover a particular period of time, it is not uncommon for courts to require that an accounting be prepared anyway. And, court and probate code compliant accountings include specific and detailed requirements.
  10. Do you understand that you have personal liability exposure for the actions that you take or don’t take as the trustee? You are required to be prudent with risk management. Also consider possible fiduciary insurance coverage although in most situations it isn’t required or necessary.
  11. Do you know what additional planning opportunities exist or might exist, such as for tax purposes? Similarly, are you aware of new or changing tax, probate code, planning, and investment statutes and rules? And have you calendared important planning and compliance dates?
  12. Do you know how to prudently handle distributions and the timing of distributions? Do you know how to wrap things up and conclude the administration?
  13. Do you know what to do if there is a dispute about how the administration is being handled? This is important. As a trustee you can get yourself into even greater difficulty depending on how you handle disputes and disagreements. And for administration attorneys, I have written about changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct that were implemented on November 1, 2018, and that should be considered in appropriate circumstances.
  14. And last on this list, are you represented by the necessary and appropriate professionals to advise you on your fiduciary duties, trust administration management, compliance, taxes, investments, insurance, asset protection and preservation, communicating with beneficiaries, and other important or possibly important issues?

Thanks for reading this post. Every trust situation is different. You do need to consult with professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only

Blogs: California trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations; D&O, audit committee, governance and risk management

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David Tate Presentation About Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights, and Contentious Trust Administrations and Other Situations (May 24, 2018)

Attend My Upcoming Presentation About Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights, and Contentious Trust Administrations and Other Situations

Date: May 24, 2018

Time: 6:00 P.M. – 7:45 P.M.

Location: Royse Law Firm, PC, 149 Commonwealth Drive, Ste. 1001, Menlo Park, CA 94025, (650) 813-9700

I will be presenting a discussion about California trustee and beneficiary responsibilities and rights, and contentious trust administrations on May 24, 2018, from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., at the Royse Law Firm, PC, at 149 Commonwealth Drive, Ste. 1001, Menlo Park, CA 94025, (650) 813-9700. The presentation is free. At the bottom of this post I have provided a link to register if you would like to attend. Please also tell other people who would be interested. The presentation and handout are detailed, but the discussion is primarily directed toward non-lawyers and other people who are not experts in the subject areas.

The presentation covers the following primary topic areas. Many of the discussion areas also apply to wills and estates:

  1. Overview of trust interpretation, responsibilities and rights
  2. Investments and management
  3. Accountings and information
  4. Uncertainties and disputes
  5. Additional select trust, estate, elder, and planning issues depending on the attendees, such as conservatorships, elder abuse, powers of attorney, mental capacity, transfers to prohibited people, when a trustor dies, planning, etc.

Please click on the following link for additional detail and to register to attend the presentation, and please also tell other people who would be interested:


A party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute

David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, California (Silicon Valley/Menlo Park Office, with additional offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County),

The following is a brief discussion about a new California case in which the court held that a party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute. If you have never been involved in the anti-SLAPP statute, it is a big deal. The case is Urick v. Urick, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Case No. B278257 (October 5, 2017).

Summary. Filing a petition for instructions in probate, claiming that a trustee or beneficiary had triggered a no contest clause by filing her prior petition to reform or modify a trust, is a claim that triggers prong one of the California anti-SLAPP statute Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16, which means that the party seeking to claim and enforce that the no contest clause was triggered must be prepared to satisfy prong two of the anti-SLAPP statute which requires him to sufficiently establish a reasonable possibility of prevailing on the claim that the no contest clause was triggered and violated.

Takeaway. If you bring a claim to enforce a no contest clause based on an opposing party’s prior petition filed in probate, you must be prepared at the time of your filing to establish to the court, based on evidence and declarations, that you have a reasonable possibility of prevailing on your claim that the other party had triggered and violated the no contest clause.

Urick is also interesting for the court’s discussion whether the previously filed petition to reform or modify the trust triggered the no contest clause, including the discussion whether that previously filed petition was filed by the petitioner as a beneficiary of the trust or as the trustee of the trust and whether there was really a distinction that mattered under the facts of the case.

Other thoughts about the anti-SLAPP statute. I have been involved in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16 motions. It is my opinion that it is a deeply flawed statute except possibly in really obvious and clear situations and in those cases the party who has those defenses has other remedies such as a demurrer, motion to strike, or motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication. The anti-SLAPP statute should be revoked or very significantly amended and limited. To add further injury, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion automatically stays all discovery unless a motion to allow and compel discovery is brought and the court grants that motion – thus, strategically a party might bring an anti-SLAPP motion simply to see if they can prevail even if their arguments and chances of prevailing are not good – and the statute further provides that if a party prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion they are entitled to attorneys’ fees whereas if a party defeats an anti-SLAPP motion the statute does not provide that they are entitled to recover attorneys’ fees. The anti-SLAPP statute is ripe for abuse or use in situations that might be counter to other public or judicial policies, which the court in Urick appeared to recognize, but as the court noted, nevertheless the statute is still on the books and is applicable unless and until the Legislature does something about the statute.

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Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights – Discussion Paper

If you are a trustee you need to know your responsibilities, and if you are a beneficiary you should know your rights. The following is a summary paper discussing both the responsibilities and the rights. Of course the California Probate Code is considerably longer and more detailed than the points discussed in this paper, there are also case law interpretations, and every case and situation is unique, but the paper will give you good insight. Click on the following link for the paper and discussion, A Summary of California Trustee and Beneficiary Responsibilities and Rights Dave Tate Esq 01052016.

Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco

Attended the Silent Trusts Presentation – San Mateo Co. Bar Estate Planning

Yesterday I attended the monthly San Mateo County Estate Planning and Probate Section lunch presentation. This presentation was on silent trusts, presented by attorneys Paul Barulich and Matthew Matiasevich. An interesting discussion about the planning, although rather limited planning, that parents can do in California to keep an irrevocable trust private from the beneficiaries, i.e., so that the beneficiaries don’t even know the trust exists. When might trustors desire this type of privacy from beneficiaries? One scenario could be when parents want their children to strive and achieve at least into their twenties without the certain knowledge that they will be receiving substantial trust assets.  At least based on responses by attendees, not many estate planning attorneys are preparing silent trusts.

One noted tidbit of information: even if the trust is drafted as a silent trust, trustee/trust duties under California Probate Code sections 16060.7, 16061 and 16061.5 are not waivable. Thus, for example, in some situations the trustee must still provide the terms of the trust and report to the beneficiary by providing information relating to the administration of the trust relevant to the beneficiary’s interest, if the beneficiary requests the trustee to do so.  Accordingly, even if a prospective beneficiary does not know that a trust exists, i.e., because the trust is silent, a prospective beneficiary should always ask a suspected trustee to provide information about any trust in which the prospective beneficiary is a beneficiary. Upon that request the trustee must provide some information.


Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco / California) – Civil and Estate, Trust, Conservatorship and Elder Abuse Litigation – member of the Estate Planning and Probate Section Executive Committee.

My other blog,

Top 10 List of Trust and Estate Beneficiary Rights

Click on the below video for my Top 10 List of Trust and Estate Beneficiary Rights.  I have also posted below the video the text of the discussion.  And feel free to forward this blog post to anyone who would be interested, including beneficiaries, and trustee and executor fiduciaries.  Thank you.  Dave Tate (San Francisco and California)


Hello, I’m Dave Tate. I’m a San Francisco, California civil, trust, estate, conservatorship and elder abuse litigation attorney.

After years of practice, the following is my top 10 list of trust and estate beneficiary rights in most situations.

And correspondingly, if you are a trustee or executor with fiduciary duties, satisfying these responsibilities will help put you on a good path. The following list is not in any particular order.

Here are the top 10 trust and estate beneficiary rights.

1st. To have the trustee or executor follow the terms of the trust or will.

2nd. To have the trustee or executor act and interact in the best interests of the beneficiaries.

3rd. For the trustee or executor not to self-deal.

4th. To have the assets go to the people who the Decedent would have intended if the trust or will isn’t clear or doesn’t reflect the Decedent’s true wishes.

5th. For the trustee or executor to prudently invest, spend and maximize the trust or estate assets.

6th. For the trustee or executor to take possession of and safeguard the assets.

7th. For the trustee or executor to timely and prudently manage and administer the trust or estate.

8th. For the trustee or executor to make timely distributions in accord with the terms of the trust or will.

9th. For the trustee or executor to reasonably provide timely information about the trust or estate, the assets and its management, as required. Note, as a beneficiary your requests must be reasonable and appropriate.

And 10th. For the trustee or executor to provide timely and proper accountings, as required.

If you are a trust or estate beneficiary you need to know your rights. Similarly, if you are a trustee or executor, you need to know and satisfy your duties and responsibilities to complete your tasks and avoid problems and possible liability. That’s it for now. Thanks for listening.

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco and California),