My sister spend all the trust fund money, is there anything we can do?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother passed away roughly ten years ago. Before her passing she settled out of court with a Pharmaceutical Company for damages. This money was left in a trust for we three children and my aunt as the trustee. My Aunt is a small business lawyer. The idea was simple, Each child gets one third and can access their share at 18 years of age. My brother and I began living under my aunt's roof in MI and my sister, being the oldest, stayed to finish school in AL. She turned 18 and began to access the money for some college (she dropped out!) and her wedding. (The amount was never fully disclosed, but was told to be enough to afford a small home or cheap college for each child.) Because of personal problems with my aunt, I ran away at sixteen. Once I turned 18 I spoke to my Aunt to try and receive my portion of my mothers trust. She Simply barked at me "There is no money, your sister's spent it all... Nothing for you or your brother!" Basically she stated that my sister kept asking for my aunt to foot the bill for her expenses with the trust money. I was to young to witness any documentation and still have yet to see any legal documents about the fund. (my aunt is a controlling, manipulative, holier-than-thou, my stuff is more important type.) So I do not know how legal it is for someone's plan to provide for their children, after their passing, to turn into this travesty. What should I do? Who is respectively to blame? ... If it helps, I joined the National Guard at Nineteen and have served for roughly 3 years now, simply to get my life from nothing runaway to something that resembles upstanding citizen.

Expert Answer

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

You are facing a very difficult situation, and we strongly urge you to consult with an attorney who practices in the state where your aunt lives. The legal answer will depend on the precise language of the trust that was set up - did it actually say that neither child could access more than one-third of the funds, or did it allow your aunt to have discretion as to how to spend it. And, you will need to investigate the applicable law about the role of trustees in this sort of situation. You may have a legal claim, but you may not. And keep in mind, even if you have a valid legal claim you might not be able to collect anything if your aunt and sister have nothing to give to you. So, start with consulting with a local lawyer, and take it from there.