Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

May 2, 2013
Sibling rivalry over a parent's trust: What financial disclosures are required to beneficiaries?

My sister is the trustee of our parents' revocable trust. We will soon be selling their house and property. I feel there is a lot of unnecessary money being spent. Is she accountable for what comes and goes out of the checking account? Do I have a right to know what is financially going on? If so, does she notify me or does the attorney?

It has been almost a year since our parents died and I have no idea where we are financially. I have been involved in preparing the property and house for sale. Do I have a say in accepting an offer or not? My sister feels it is her responsibility as trustee to handle everything without including me. Thank you for your time.

Linda, Rocklin

A: I have not reviewed your parents' trust, so can only respond based on general principles of trust administration.

In most trusts, trustees are granted broad powers of administration. However, that does not mean that the power is absolute. A trustee is a fiduciary and owes a duty to the beneficiaries of the trust. The beneficiaries do not owe a duty to the trustee.

Most trustees understand the responsibility they have been given and work very hard to carry out terms of the trust. They attempt to make reasonable decisions that will be beneficial to all, including decisions that affect the trustee (if the trustee also happens to be a beneficiary). Unfortunately, on occasion, some trustees forget this duty and become high-handed and secretive. Such behavior sows the seeds of mistrust in the minds of the beneficiaries.

All trustees are required to administer the trust according to its terms. Although it is uncommon, some trusts state that a trustee is not required to account to the beneficiaries. Even if such a provision is included in a trust, the trustee is still required by law, upon request of a beneficiary, to provide information relating to the administration of the trust that is relevant to that beneficiary's interest.

Assuming that you and your sister are beneficiaries of the trust and the assets are to be distributed to the two of you, you have the right to request financial information because it affects your interest in the trust. If your sister has an attorney, you certainly can make a request to the attorney for that information, but are not required to do so. You can make the request directly to your sister.

If the trust does not contain a provision waiving the requirement, a trustee is required to provide an account of the trustee's transactions to the beneficiaries on an annual basis. A beneficiary has the right to object to transactions with which the beneficiary does not agree.

The trustee has been charged with the duty to administer the trust's assets. Therefore, your sister has the legal right to accept or reject any purchase offers for the property. She does not first have to obtain your consent to any offer.

However, because her decision will be reviewed by you, and you can object if you feel the offer she accepted was not reasonable, there is no harm done if she keeps you informed of the progress of the property's sale.

As a beneficiary, you should also be reasonable and remember that the trustee has been given the authority to administer the trust. Keeping the lines of communication open between a trustee and the beneficiaries is essential to ensuring a smooth trust administration.

About Comments

Reader comments on are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "report abuse" button below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

hide comments

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.

Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

Personal Finance columns

October 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31