Resolving problems with attorneys and trustees

It can be a real worry to think that a person responsible for someone else’s money might be doing something wrong, or might not be competent. You need to resolve the problem – whether it’s clarifying a misunderstanding, or taking action.

What are attorneys and trustees?

Attorneys and trustees look after money and financial affairs for other people. They don’t have to be lawyers – anyone can become an attorney or trustee.

Attorneys are appointed under a power of attorney, which gives them the right to make financial and (sometimes) medical decisions for someone else. Sometimes, people can be given similar powers by a court, and if they’ve been appointed by a court, they will be called:

  • deputies (England), which is the term we will use in this article
  • guardians or interveners (Scotland)
  • controllers (Northern Ireland)

Trustees are appointed to manage a trust – a sum of money or assets held to benefit someone else. This might be money that someone has left in their will to pay for a child’s education, or perhaps money for a person who is disabled and unable to manage it themself.

When to worry about attorneys and trustees

Attorneys, deputies and trustees have to act in the best interests of:

  • the person who made the power of attorney
  • the person whose finances the court appointed them to look after
  • the people who are meant to benefit from the trust

You should take action if you think they’re:

  • not acting in the person’s best interest
  • misusing money
  • making bad decisions that affect the person
  • committing a crime

What you should do depends on whether they’re an attorney, a deputy or a trustee.

If you’re worried about an attorney or deputy

Top tip

Your first step is to talk things through calmly with the deputy or attorney.

If the person you’re worried about is your own attorney, or if you’re acting as a joint attorney with them, you should start by talking to them. The same applies if you have concerns about a deputy (or their equivalent in Scotland or Northern Ireland). They might have made a mistake that you can clear up without too much difficulty. Tell them clearly what concerns you, and try to come to an agreement.

If you can’t sort things out by talking, or if you think what they’re doing needs to be stopped urgently (for example, you think they are committing a crime), you should report them to the organisation that registered the power of attorney or that appointed them as a deputy, guardian or intervener, or controller.

If the person you’re worried about isn’t your attorney or a joint attorney with you, or if you don’t feel comfortable talking to the people involved, just contact one of those organisations directly.

What might be done about your concerns?

Once you’ve raised your concerns, someone from the organisation you contacted will investigate. If they think something’s wrong, they can:

  • Get another expert opinion – they might order a formal report from a local authority, NHS visitor or other impartial person.
  • Tell the attorney or deputy what they’re doing wrong, and give more detailed instructions about how they should act.
  • Get an explanation – they can ask the attorney to explain their actions, and take things further if they’re not satisfied with the answer.
  • Suspend or permanently remove the attorney or deputy.

If the person is in danger

If you think the attorney or deputy (or their actions) might put the person they’re responsible for in physical danger, call the police straight away.

If you’re concerned about a trustee

If you’re not happy with how a trustee is behaving, you may be able to get them removed. Not many people can remove a trustee. If it’s your trust (that is, you had it set up using your assets – your money and investments) you may have the power to do it. Another trustee may be able to do it as well – how this works depends on the rules of the particular trust. Professional advice is worth taking if you want to act.

If you’re not closely involved, you should to speak to the person who put the assets into trust (if you can), or try to discuss matters with other trustees.

If a trustee has to be removed

First, if you set up the trust, check the trust documents to see if the rules let you remove trustees.

If you are another trustee of the trust or if you are a beneficiary of the trust, sometimes a trustee can be removed using other legal provisions which will not usually be in the trust documents themselves. You should talk to a lawyer if you find yourself in this position.

If the trust documentation or some other legal provision does let you remove trustees, you need the right paperwork. You can get it from the solicitor or financial firm that manages the trust. Usually all it takes is signing an extra form. It may need to be signed by the trustee that you want to remove, but you may be able to remove them without their signature. And remember that most trusts need at least two trustees – so if removing one trustee leaves you short, you’ll need to find another one.

Whatever your circumstances, the best idea is to speak to your solicitor or a financial organisation that’s managing the trust.