Legal Question in Wills and Trusts in Connecticut

trustee with conflict of interest

A co-trustee (and beneficiary) of a family estate (land valued between 5 and 50 million dollars) owns a piece of land ajoining the estate property, it belonged to his elderly mother who turned it over to him a few years ago. This co-trustee is now trying to sell the estate property to developers he found, without advertising the property (had a purchase & sales aggrement for 3,200,000, that is currently in court for breach of contract). The co-trustee also has had his brother-in-law, a capenter/building contractor involved in the dealings with the above mentioned delvelopers since day one (2006). Sotheby's has valued the property between 10 and 50 million. The co-trustee refuses to meet with Sotheby's. Under these circumstances it appears that the co-trustee is engaging in business that would certainly be seen as a conflict of interest, would financially benefit him and his brother-in-law personally, and do a grave injustice to the remaining heirs of the estate. The other (of 2) trustees is my mother (an heir), she is elderly, extremely trusting, and in over her head. I have tried repeatedly to get to her get her own attorney to over see these dealing she will not. I am a remainderman do I have any rights? Who can help me?

Asked on 2/23/09, 2:51 pm

2 Answers from Attorneys

Diana Bartolotta B-Law LLC
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Re: trustee with conflict of interest

Settling an estate can often be a difficult process. With regard to your specific questions, here are my thoughts:

1. Yes, your mother has the right to hire her own attorney. When the settlement of an estate is taking a long time, it is not uncommon for the interested parties to seek their own legal counsel.

2. Yes, you have rights as well. (You mentioned that you are a remainderman. I'm not sure if you meant "beneficiary" or "heir" or truly meant "remainderman." In any case, if you have an interest in the probate of the estate, you can hire an attorney to represent your interests.

In response to the other issues you presented:

1. A trustee has a fiduciary duty to the estate. The test for a trustee's actions are whether they are in the best interests of the estate and consistent with the trust documents. With regard to hiring the brother-in-law, if it is in the best interests of the estate to do so (e.g., family might give a discount on fees), the conflict of interest is not a problem.

2. Beneficiaries do have the right to sue the trustee if they think that the trustee is misusing his power or wasting trust assets.

a. Often, merely hiring an attorney to represent your interests helps and you don't have to go through complicated litigation. When you are represented by an attorney, that attorney can contact the attorney for the trustee and address the concerns. If the issues cannot be resolved, and you are a remainderman in the estate, you could bring an action to enforce your rights.

Best of luck. This is a difficult process to be going through, and I can understand your concern for your mother's interests as well. Settling an estate can often split families apart.

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2/23/09, 3:30 pm
Linda Subbloie Linda A. Subbloie, Esq.
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Re: trustee with conflict of interest

You really should retain an attorney to represent your interests. Hopefully, that attorney can speak to your mother and convince her that she needs counsel as well.

If you do find that the co-trustee is not acting in the best interests of the estate and the beneficiaries' interest, you may be able to remove that person as co-trustee.

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2/23/09, 5:48 pm

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