As a Trust Beneficiary, What Are Your Rights to a Trust Accounting?

You are a trust beneficiary. 

You have no idea what is in the trust, what has been spent out of the trust, and what will be spent out of the trust. 

Must the trustee open his books to you? What rights do you have to receive this information? 

Fortunately, many trusts provide language that instructs the trustee to provide information regarding the assets and expenditures to the beneficiaries, once their interest is vested.  However, even if the trust does not expressly obligate the trustee to account to the beneficiaries, the Ohio Trust Code codifies the trustee’s responsibility to do so. 

R.C. 5808.13(A) details the basic policy behind the trustee’s obligation to keep the current beneficiaries of a trust “reasonably informed about the administration of the trust and of the material facts necessary for them to protect their interests” from trustee malfeasance or asset mismanagement.  If you have just discovered that you are a beneficiary of a trust, you are entitled to make a request for the trust instrument, which must be provided within sixty days of the request, as well as advance notice of any change in the trustee’s compensation schedule. 

As a trust is being administered, beneficiaries are entitled to an annual “report of the trust property, liabilities, receipts and disbursements, including the source and amount of the trustee’s compensation, a listing of the trust assets and the trust assets’ respective market values.”  R.C. 5808.13(C).  While the trustee does not generally have a duty to provide information other than the annual “report” detailed in R.C. 5808.13(C), the beneficiary has the right to request and receive information related to the administration of the trust, unless it is unreasonable under the circumstances.  R.C. 5808.13(A). 

The Ohio Trust Code employs the term “report” instead of accounting to denote that the production of information is not subject to any specific form or high standard of formality.  See Official Comment to R.C. 5808.13.  As a result, case law provides varying interpretations of what constitutes a sufficient production of information under R.C. 5808.13. 

For example, on one hand, in In re Estate of Thallman v. Thallman (3rd Dist.), 2016 Ohio 992, trustees successfully defended their compliance with R.C. 5808.13 by demonstrating to the court that they had provided a volume of documentation in response to discovery requests about the trust administration, including several years of tax returns as well as financial statements for the trust accounts.  Additional information requested by the beneficiaries, such as financial statements for the trust prior to the beneficiaries’ interest vesting, was found to be irrelevant to the administration and that the beneficiaries were not entitled to the information under the statute.  On the other hand, the Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s opinion that a handwritten ledger of assets did not qualify as a sufficient report because it did not amount to a complete inventory of assets or ongoing ledger reporting disbursements from the trust.  It was held to be insufficient because it was adequate for the beneficiaries to protect their interests based on the information provided.  In re Fearn Trust (5th Dist.), 2012 Ohio 1029. 

If litigation over the production of a trust report or sufficient information involving the administration of a trust is initiated, the Ohio Trust Code provides the court with discretion to award attorney fees to the prevailing party against the non-prevailing party in whole or in part.  In order to evaluate your rights as a beneficiary to receive information related to the trust administration or obligations as a trustee to provide trust administration information, the probate litigation department at Reminger Co., LPA is experienced and capable of assessing your circumstances.