Removing a trustee or invalidating a trust is not easy to do. In fact, it could take sometimes years to resolve. However, there are reasons: the person who executed the trust did not have the capacity to sign it; or, the trustee was mismanaging the assets. In those cases, you may have grounds to do something about it. (Also, consider the appointment of a conservator and/or guardian if the acting trustee is losing capacity to act.)

This exact scenario is happening with the deceased Denver Bronco’s owner Pat Bowlen’s trust and his estate. His trust owns the Denver Broncos, and the heirs are his children. Two of his daughters do not like how the trust is being handled. Currently, the trustee is the team’s president, Joe Ellis. The daughters also do not believe their father had the capacity to execute the trust when he signed it. Therefore, they filed to remove the acting trustee and have attempted to invalidate the trust. However, those actions come with consequences.

Beth Wallace and Amie Klemmer filed a lawsuit Friday in Arapaho County Court challenging the validity of the trust, which includes a no-contest clause, on the grounds that their father lacked the mental capacity and was under undue influence when he signed his estate planning documents in March 2009…

…By choosing to challenge the validity of the trust in court, Wallace and Klemmer are putting themselves at risk of being disinherited if they’re found in violation of the no-contest clause and the 2009 trust is upheld in court. Their rights as beneficiaries would bypass them and go to their children.

How would someone start this process?

First, look at the trust document. It should include a section on how to remove the trustee. Sometimes, the trust states the majority of the beneficiaries can vote out a trustee. However, more often it requires the a court filing to remove the trustee with cause. That means you need a compelling reason and the judge has to agree. Always be careful before filing anything: The trust may include language regarding the consequences if you do file something against the trustee without any supporting evidence. This is called the no-contest or an in terrorem clause. They can be enforced if you do not have a basis for your claims. If they are enforced and you lose, you might have just lost your inheritance. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed such a decision from the trial court, but it took an appellate review to fix that error. Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead, 415 P.3d 310, 2018 CO 26 (Colo. 2018).

Second, review the statute. The Uniform Trust Code codifies the procedure for a petition, which is set out in C.R.S. § 15-5-101 through 15-5-1404. Also, check the statute of limitations on your claims. You must file your claim within these deadlines. Some of these are codified in the Trust Code; some of them are codified in C.R.S. § 13-80-101 through 13-80-119. The new Trust Code allows the trustee to shorten the window, but he or she must do it properly.

Third, include supporting documentation with your claims. While not these are not required, medical information is important when invalidating a trust. A doctor’s statement of incapacity is helpful. If you are trying to remove a trustee, you should have financial or other documentation showing the trustee mismanaged the trust.

If you invalidate the trust, what happens?

Without knowing all the facts and the trust itself, it is possible all the assets in the trust will revert back into the individual’s name who created the trust. If there is a Will, it will control the disposition of assets. If there is no Will, you might create another nightmare.

If you are considering these claims or preparing to defend against such claims and need assistance, please call the Grand Junction Estate Attorneys Reams & Reams at 970-242-7847

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