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Trust Standing, Declaratory Relief; Accounting

One of the more complicated aspects of trust litigation is that usually any person who has an interest in the trust — however remote — either must be joined as a necessary party or may file for declaratory relief. With respect to declaratory relief, any person interest in the administration of a trust may file a petition for declaratory relief judgment seeking a declaration of rights or legal relations to determine any questions arising in the administration of the trust. Schumacher v. Schumacher, 303 S.W.3d 170, 174 (Mo. Ct. App. 2010) (citing Section 527.040, RSMo). Therefore, even a remainder/future beneficiary in a trust instrument who receives one-hundred dollars ($100.00) could file for declaratory relief seeking, among other things, a clarification on a trust’s meaning, what a trustee’s duties are, how distributions are to be made, etc. 

Mere interest alone is generally insufficient, though. To have standing to file a suit, the interested party must have an interest in the subject of the lawsuit which, if valid, gives him/her a right to relief. Switzer v. Hart, 957 S.W.2d 512, 514 (Mo. Ct. App. 1997). To warrant standing, the prospective plaintiff must have some actual and justiciable interest susceptible of protection through litigation. Switzer v. Mercantile Bank of St. Louis, N.A., 932 S.W.2d 893, 896 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996). Hence, a trust beneficiary must first establish that he/she has an interest in the trust and that the Court could afford him/her relief which protects his/her interest.

Similarly, Missouri law is very clear that remainder/future beneficiaries of a trust, vested or contingent, have standing to bring an accounting against a trustee to discover the nature and extent of a given trust’s assets and value. Englesmann v. Holekamp, 402 S.W.2d 382, 388 (Mo. 1966). This broad accounting rule — in conjunction with the ability of a “minor” beneficiary to seek declaratory relief — reflect the strong policy consideration of ensuring that someone has the power to enforce a trustee’s fiduciary duties and protect the Settlor’s/Grantor’s wishes. See Siefert v. Leonhardt, 975 S.W.2d 489, 492 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998).

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