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Conflicts over trusts

When New York residents establish a trust, they usually have good reasons to do so. Trusts exist to ensure that the settlor's wishes are respected. Some settlors want to avoid probate, while others are concerned that their heirs would not handle a lump sum inheritance under a will wisely and thus want the distributions to be spread out over a period of time.

Unfortunately, trusts can also be a source of conflict. Many times, trustees are friends or family members of the settlor. These individuals may not be financial or legal professionals, and thus may not understand all the nuances of managing a trust. Also, the beneficiaries may be acquainted with the trustee, which can sometimes lead to interpersonal conflicts that would not exist between strangers.

In many cases, conflict over a trust is often a simple matter of communication issues. After all, trustees typically have their own work and family obligations, and may not be as mindful of communicating trust-related issues to the beneficiaries. On the beneficiary side, there may be some unrealistic expectations about communications, investment decisions and the distribution of funds. In most cases, some frank discussion is enough to resolve such issues.

There are cases, however, in which trustees and beneficiaries are unable to resolve conflicts. Such situations perhaps could have been avoided had more careful estate planning taken place. This is why it may be a good idea for individuals to consult with an experienced attorney when creating a trust. The attorney could review the proposed choices for a trustee and also suggest that a trust protector be appointed as well.

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