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WILLS/TRUSTS 9: Probate court can appoint a successor trustee if one cannot be appointed in accordance with the trust.

This case arises from the administration of a Trust. The trust was created in March 2006. The settlor died in December 2014, making the trust irrevocable.

It is undisputed that Defendant was the initial trustee and that Plaintiff and her three siblings are trust beneficiaries. Because of disagreements between Defendant and Plaintiff and between Plaintiff and her siblings, Defendant found the trust difficult to administer, so he sent Plaintiff and her siblings a 30-day-notice of his intent to resign as trustee. Although the trust provided a mechanism for appointment of a successor trustee, each of the named potential successor trustees declined appointment. Accordingly, Defendant petitioned the probate court seeking limited supervision of the trust for the purpose of allowing him to resign, approving his final accounting, and appointing a successor trustee under the Michigan Trust Code, specifically MCL 700.7704(3).

Representing herself, Plaintiff objected to Defendant’s resignation and asserted that a successor trustee was required to be appointed from among the principals of Defendant’s law firm. Plaintiff also listed several expenses to which she objected, but she offered no explanation as to why she felt they were improper. In contrast, Plaintiff’s siblings filed a response concurring with Defendant’s petition.

In February 2017, at the contested hearing, Defendant testified that the accounting submitted accurately reflected all income, expenses, and disbursements of the Trust. He confirmed that he served all interested parties with an accounting and only Plaintiff objected.

Upon conclusion of the testimony, the probate court noted the vacancy in the trustee position created by Defendant’s resignation and the fact that all possible successor trustees named in the trust declined to act. Acknowledging that the Court can’t compel someone to serve, and it’s not in the interests of the beneficiaries for someone to be forced to serve against their will, the probate court found that it could appoint a successor. The court also found that the accounting was proper.

 A court must enforce the plain and unambiguous terms of a trust as they are written. Here, under the plain language of the Trust, a trustee can resign after providing the beneficiaries with 30 days’ notice. It is undisputed that Defendant resigned by way of the mechanism set forth in the trust

MCL 700.7704(3) permits the probate court to appoint a successor trustee if one cannot be appointed in accordance with the trust. Thus, the probate court properly permitted initial trustee Defendant to resign and properly appointed a successor trustee.

We draft and review wills, trusts and other estate planning documents to help our clients with their estate objectives. Located in Plymouth, Michigan, we assist clients throughout southeast Michigan. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced probate and estate administration lawyer at our firm, contact our law office in Plymouth, Michigan.

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