Can a trustee make changes to the trust's property if the owner is still living and competent?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 29, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

If a relative's name is on a trust for my elderly aunt's property, can they legally make changes that go against my aunt's wishes if she's mentally competent and able to make these decisions for herself?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Whether your relative has the right to make changes to the trust depend on the wording of the trust, and on who is named to act in what capacity.

A trust is a sort of legal fiction that works much like a will, but generally gives those involved more flexibility in dealing with the property in the trust. Understanding how one works"”and whether your relative is acting within the letter of the law, requires wading through a little legal jargon"”which will ultimately be helpful if you get the chance to eyeball the trust documents.

The most common arrangement, a living trust, works like this: A person, referred to by law as a grantor, creates the trust"”and usually names himself or herself as the trustee, entitled to manage the trust property as long as he or she is alive. The grantor/trustee/owner of the property also names a successor trustee, who is the person entitled to manage the property and distribute it as the trust directs, but not until the grantor/trustee/owner dies. The trustmaker also may name people to be trust beneficiaries"”to take possession of the trust property once the trustmaker dies.

If your aunt's trust is set up in the usual way, then she is the grantor and trustee"”and retains complete power to direct the trust terms. She also has the complete power to amend the trust to remove the relative from it"”and should do so if that person is acting against her wishes.