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Trustee-beneficiary relationship may extend statute of limitations

Beneficiaries of trust estates often don't realize they have a problem with the trustee for some time.  In fact, it is not uncommon for beneficiaries to take years to understand they are not getting what they should from the trustee.  This includes information about the trust, trust accountings, and distributions.

While it is always (yes, ALWAYS) a good idea to address a problem earlier rather than later, life doesn't always work that way.  Often times trust administration involves family members and the decision to turn trust administration into trust litigation is a social decision as much as a financial decision.  The decision is almost always further complicated by the family member who is serving as trustee continually promising to provide additional information.  Sometimes it's the exact opposite, the trustee says there isn't anything more to share.

The relationship between a trustee and beneficiary is called a fiduciary relationship.  The trustee has a fiduciary duty to the trust beneficiaries.  Under California law, where their is a fiduciary duty that duty usually tolls the statute of limitations.  That can be very important for beneficiaries who come to realize only years after a problem has arisen that they need to begin a lawsuit in order to get their rightful inheritance.  Trust litigation like all litigation has statute of limitations attached to it.  This means beneficiaries have a limited period of time in which to file suit.  When the trust litigation involved accusing the trustee of breaching his or her fiduciary duties the time to file the suit can be extended as long as the fiduciary relationship exists.

A common example occurs when a trustee doesn't provide trust accounts and won't distribute trust assets.  If a beneficiary fails to take action during the three years statute of limitations they still have recourse.  Rather losing the right to their inheritance under the trust, the fiduciary relationship will extend the statute of limitations and allow the trust litigation to go forward.