The administration of a trust is generally private. There are occasions, though, when the trustee or fiduciary is unable to determine how to administer the trust or how best to exercise the trustee’s discretion. These situations often arise because of difficulty interpreting the language of the trust. In interpreting a trust, words are given their usual and ordinary meaning unless there is something in the instrument to deflect from that meaning. In re Thomas L. Harris Trust, 204 S.W.3d 267, 271 (Mo. Ct. App. 2006). The paramount rule is that the intent of the trustmaker — the settlor/grantor — is controlling, and that such intention must be ascertained from the trust instrument as a whole. Id.
Notwithstanding these simple rules of interpretation, applying them can be difficult with complex or vague trusts. As a result, Section 456.2-201, RSMo, authorizes a trustee or interested person in the trust to petition the appropriate court for instructions on how the trust should be administered and/or who has rights under the trust. Such a request is usually called a Petition for Declaratory Relief/Judgment or a Petition for Instructions. While this avenue is more costly because it involves a judicial proceeding (which could be contested), it may be attractive to a trustee so as to avoid fiduciary liability (which, in turn, can be even more costly).
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