Family trust embezzlement and stealing is more common than you might think. At RMO Lawyers, we investigate, prosecute and defend these claims every day.
Embezzlement is a form of theft, and it is a crime. In the case of family trusts, embezzlement refers to misappropriation of funds belonging to the trust, or to the decedent that should belong to the trust but were stolen before their passing. A trust litigation attorney handles the civil litigation (monetary relief) aspect of an embezzlement case, not the criminal case. Any beneficiary or trustee may choose to only prosecute an embezzlement claim in a civil court, without asking for criminal charges to be filed. IMPORTANTLY, you cannot threaten to have someone charged criminally to gain an advantage in your civil case. That will only expose you to potential criminal liability yourself.
A trustee is the individual or entity charged with managing the trust. It is the trustee’s duty to make responsible decisions with the trust fund assets. A trustee typically cannot take any funds from the trust for him/her/itself — although they may receive a stipend in the form of a trustee fee for the time and efforts associated with managing the trust. If trust beneficiaries feel that the trustee is stealing funds, they should ask the trustee to account (report on what they’ve done with trust assets). If through the accounting, or otherwise, beneficiaries learn that a trust stole money, they can charge the trustee with breaching their fiduciary duty and have them removed and surcharged. The beneficiary’s goal here is to recover the funds for the trust, and if successful the trustee may be allowed to recover his/her/its attorney’s fees and costs.
To prove that a Trustee is stealing from a family trust, we would typically look for evidence that the trustee made transactions or payments that benefited him/her/itself but did not benefit the trust beneficiaries. The most common misappropriations we see are “loans” to the trustee or other “friends,” personal property that suddenly goes missing, and overcharging for legitimate services that simply don’t cost what the trust is being charged.
Criminal misappropriation of property is a charge associated with a criminal court case. It is not part of the civil case proceedings. In our experience, while most beneficiaries are frustrated with thieving trustees and what the wrongs righted, the vast majority do not wish to see the trustee incarcerated or even prosecuted.
A breach of trust most commonly refers to a trustee’s breach of fiduciary duty. A trustee is required to act prudently and consistently with what a reasonable trustee would do in a similar circumstance. Trustees cannot play favorites, act in a manner that does not benefit the trust beneficiaries, etc. In essence, a trustee has a fiduciary duty to put trust beneficiaries’ interests first, and when they do not they most likely will have breached a fiduciary duty.
The moment you suspect a breach of trust, embezzlement, or a trustee stealing from a trust, it’s time to contact a trust litigation attorney. Many trust lawyers will offer a free consultation, and many won’t charge you a thing unless you obtain a settlement or are successful at trial.
Choosing the right trust litigation attorney is important. Here are three elements to look for:
We recommend finding an experienced trust attorney familiar with the county probate court in the county where the trust is located. For example, if the beneficiary lives in San Diego, yet the trust is in Los Angeles, we recommend working with a trust lawyer in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles trust lawyer will generally be more familiar with the Los Angeles Superior Court Probate Division, versus an out of state attorney.
RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com