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When you establish a trust as part of your estate plans, you rely on your chosen trustee to follow your wishes and execute his or her duties as expected.

What happens, though, when a trustee doesn’t quite work out as expected? Or, alternately, what happens when a beloved trustee dies or passes the reins to a successor trustee and the successor seems to be operating according to his or her own agenda — not the will of the trust? What happens if the trustee seems to be milking the trust for personal gain through fees or other benefits? What sort of fail-safe can you provide your heirs — since you won’t be around to put a stop to abuses once they start?

Enter the “Trust Protector.” A Protector has essentially one job: to watch the Trustee of an estate. If necessary, the Protector can fire the Trustee and appoint a new one.

Experts say that everyone in the process of establishing a trust — any kind of trust — as part of their estate plans should discuss the concept of a protector for the trust. Even a living revocable trust should have one. While you’re alive and able to direct your own affairs, you can make changes as necessary if a trustee isn’t working out. However, once you are gone or you no longer have the capacity to make your own decisions, your trustee could act against your will with no one to provide any checks — unless there is a protector in place.

Litigation to remove a trustee from power can be lengthy and a tremendous drain on the resources you want you heirs to have. By having a protector on the “team” that manages your trust, you can greatly reduce the risks your heirs may face.

If you’re dealing with a problematic or ineffective trustee, an attorney can help you assess your options and decide how best to proceed.