Trustee/beneficiary same person in Trust

My grandmother promised that she would pay for our - her grandchildren’s - college educations. But she died and my grandfather remarried. His new wife turned him against his family and he bailed on my grandmother’s promise. Not only did his second wife inherit all his money, even worse, she took historical family heirlooms that would be of no value to anyone besides us. My great great grandfather’s medical diploma that was framed on the wall. Where did it go? I’ll never know. Who does that kind of thing? I can’t imagine. I paid for my own college education ( and it took another 15 years to pay off my college loans).

My father - my grandfather’s son - promised he would never do to us what his father did to the family. So, when he remarried, he set up a trust. In his will, he left his house (which was paid off), his car, boats, his checking and savings accounts and pension to his wife. He loved her, so he wanted her to be comfortable for the rest of her life, which I respect. He told us kids that there was a separate trust set up in his will for us.

My dad assigned his wife as the Trustee of his will and me as the secondary trustee, should she not be able to do it for some reason. When my father died a couple of months ago, we got the will, which said that 50% of the trust assets would go to his wife and 12.5% of the trust would go to each of us; his four kids. (He had told me that the trust was going to be divided just amongst us kids - since his wife got the bulk of his estate otherwise - but nevermind, this is how he finally wrote it, apparently.)

The will is very long and whenever the Trust was mentioned, the reader was referred to “Schedule A” which was supposed to be a list of the assets in the trust. But Schedule A was blank. Attached to the will was a form we were asked to sign that “waived an accounting of the trust.” The letter from the attorney recommended that we sign this waiver in order to avoid the extra costs of a CPA accounting of the trust.

So how do we know what’s in the Trust? We are supposed to trust my dad’s wife, the trustee as well as a 50% beneficiary of this Trust, to be honest with us about what is included. This seemed like a conflict of interest to me.

So I asked for clarification about the assets in the trust. I’m not money hungry… it just seemed weird to me and I’ve never done this before. In response, from my dad’s wife I received a letter full of horrific, paranoid accusations about what a terrible daughter I’ve been. This was shocking and hurtful to me, as I had a good relationship with my dad. She sent a letter to my siblings, accusing me of saying things I didn’t say. My brother wrote to ask questions, and she did the same thing; wrote to all of us, including the attorneys, accusing him of nefarious motives.

I don’t care about the money. Although I would love to get enough money to support my daughter’s college education, I know that wasn’t a given. What I really only care about is getting the pocket knife I bought for my dad when I was 18, that he’s carried in his pocket for the last 40 years. His wife says this is “her property” and she doesn’t have to give it to me.

She is turning my siblings against each other and the insults and accusations are hair raising right now. I feel physically sick when I read it all.

I don’t know what my specific question is. My general question is: do diabolical people like this always win? Do I have to hire a lawyer to make sure this is fair? Does a trustee who is also a major beneficiary get to decide what the other beneficiaries inherit? The attorney who represents the trustee, does he have to be honest and fair to the other beneficiaries?

This whole experience makes me feel like our species deserves to go extinct.

Would love to hear from anyone who can enlighten me about any piece of this process. If it matters, my dad lived in Florida and that is where he set up his will and trust.

I have no advice at all. I’m just posting to say that I’m really sorry about your loss.

Death sometimes makes the survivors crazy. Your Dad’s wife is alone and scared and lashing out. She might become more reasonable after more time has passed. Its possible that she considers that old, beat up pocketknife that she saw on his dresser every night and saw him use everyday as as precious a momento of their lives together as his wedding ring.

I don’t know. Just tossing that out there.

Unfortunately I have been through something similar (I will always wonder what my step-mother did with the family videos - who’d want videos of other people’s kids’ christmas plays?!?!).

I was lucky that my siblings and I stayed very close.

We hired lawyers and all that, we took it through mediation … and in the end … yes … people like that win. They win because the legal bills drain the estate, they win because nice people don’t take it to the ends of the earth to fight something so ridiculously unfair because of the stress and trauma it causes to all around them.

I am not a lawyer, I probably live in a different country to you … one thing we found astounding in our laws was that the executor of the will has amazing powers that can go against what is in the will and written instructions. The law upholds the law - not what is right and fair.

We spent 2 years fighting … and walked away with no more than if we’d just given in and rolled over in the beginning. That 2 years was hell … but at what point do you just let someone steal from you and your siblings?

I wish you the best! It felt like the most awful thing to be fighting over money when we should have been grieving for the person we lost.

I’m sorry for your loss.

I’m also not a lawyer and not going to law school in the US, so there you go.

In equity, you can be both beneficiary and trustee so long as you are not the sole beneficiary.

It seems this trust is not discretionary - its not worded in such a way as to give her control over whether the trusts assets are paid out or if they are paid out, so she would have to give you 12.5% of the assets of the trust - however, the schedule is blank, so that’s worrying. Please get a lawyer to represent you (or all of you siblings) and don’t sign the waiver until you get advice from a lawyer that you pay yourself.

It’s terrible it’s come to this. Good luck.

Yeah, this is an awful situation and sadly it’s unlikely to turn out well for you.

I have a large extended family, three older relatives died with enough money to be worth caring about and two of them I was one of the named beneficiaries in the person’s will.

In all three cases the executor of the estate did stuff that essentially made sure no one other than the executor of the estate received anything. In one case, the executor broke the law (criminally) to do this, and we reported them to the State Fiduciary Office and eventually she was forced to plead guilty to a felony charge. But she suffered relatively little from this, she had gambled away almost the entirety of the money she stole and had relatively low income. I believe her wages were garnished for awhile but her income was so low that the last time we stopped receiving money we just gave up caring, this person would have had to work for a few hundred years to make up what she had stolen at the garnishment rate. The only criminal penalty was 1 year probation. I take some solace in the fact she has a fraud / embezzlement felony conviction on her record which actually resulted in her losing her job (she worked in a field in which she was responsible for managing money) and destroyed her ability to get a job in that field probably forever.

The other person that did this was smarter and was able to legally basically circumvent the “plain text” of the will with various maneuvers that were obviously immoral but not illegal. The third family executor that took the entirety of the estate, I wasn’t one of the beneficiaries so I don’t know all the details, other than that the executor was never really forced to give them money back and suffered no real consequences.

All of this taught me one thing, when I die if I have multiple people I leave stuff to in my will then none of those people will be my executor and if I set up a trust or something I’m specifying a disinterested third party to run it. FWIW in the cases where my family got screwed by an estate executor the executor was one of the nicest, most honest people we had in our family up to that point. Being an executor of a large amount of money seems to bring out the absolute worst in otherwise good people, or it exposes a long hidden greedy side.

If I had kids (too old to worry about this now, realistically) I would set up an “irrevocable” trust with defined assets to provide for them in death, and would never trust my children to the whims of a new wife or etc.

IANAL, but I am in law school. In Florida, in fact. However, this is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer. I know nothing. The following information might as well have come from a Cracker Jack box (except the last part).

Who is “the attorney”? The attorney probating the estate? The attorney your dad hired to set up the trust? Note that these may- in fact, probably are- be the same person.

There is a certainly a risk that litigation will drain the trust’s assets, but it need not get that far. Given the “crazy stepmother” scenario you describe, I would absolutely advise you to retain your own attorney. The initial consultation will be inexpensive (somewhere between free and $250).

This is especially true since there may- may- be some sort of malpractice issue regarding the lack of an existing accounting of trust assets.

The Florida Bar and most local bar associations have free referral services. They’ll put you in touch with an attorney specializing in wills, estates, trusts and other probate issues. As you can imagine, there are rather a lot of them here. :slight_smile:

Feel free to PM me if you need more info.

Too bad your father left his estate in this manner. I’m sure that he felt he could trust you all to just work it out. But that’s not how it works a lot of times. Money has a tendency to make people act in ways that you wouldn’t normally expect them to. It is a great motivator.

I would recommend that you get your own attorney, but since your father’s will gave your stepmother the power, you may have a very difficult time challenging it.

My grandfather remarried after my grandmother passed away. He was in his 70’s and my stepgrandmother was in her late 60’s. My grandfather lived another 15 years. He had a pre-nup drawn up and all of the assets he owned prior to the marriage (house, investments, etc.) went into his estate to go to his children. All of the assets she owned prior to the marriage (some investments etc.) she could take with her or pass down to her children.

My mom was the executor of my grandfather’s estate. Upon his death, she and my uncle told their stepmother, that they were going to give her 6 months to locate another place to live before she moved out and they put the house on the market. She was entitled to some portion of my grandfather’s social security benefits, plus the separate investments she had when they married. It was an orderly and peaceful transition.

ETA: stick to your guns and request for an accounting of the assets from the attorney. You have the right to that as a beneficiary and the secondary trustee. Your stepmom has shown her true colors.

Good advice already given, so I’ll just throw this out there: point out to your siblings that the executrix of the estate is dividing the siblings. See if you can regroup the siblings and have them agree to consult one attorney who will represent all of the siblings in this matter.

Best of luck.