Running out of time

Hello Everyone! Thank you in advance for reading this. It’s long but I’d really appreciate any and all advice as I am over my head and scared.

I have recently become the trustee to my mother’s trust after a little over a decade of having another family member (whom we’ll call Sara), quietly pass on the duties to the co-trustee(whom we’ll call Bob), who has little to no idea as to what he’s doing. I have shown and verbalized my interest in becoming more informed and involved in our trust over the past several years but it was always sort of brushed off.

Nonetheless, after discovering that the Trustee duties had been passed onto the other Trustee, I was able to dive in head first, despite Sara’s apparent wishes. I can only assume this is due to extreme maleficence taking place over the years and her fearing that I was more likely to catch on than Bob would. After almost a year since Bob was left in charge, I have FINALLY become a Trustee. with Bob still listed as Co-Trustee.

At the time Sara decided to transfer responsibility onto Bob, she provide him with one box of paperwork. Most of which I have ultimately deemed irrelevant. There were a bunch of appraisals, one year’s tax filing, just one. A list of wells by county that gave reference as to where this information was listed or retrieved from, the previous years paid tax receipts by county and a whole binder of Quit Claims Deeds that were recorded in each county when the assets where transferred from the Estate to the trust… 90% without any description listed under Exhibit A.

We, as beneficiaries were never given an annual accounting over the 10+ years that Sara was in charge. I even asked her to provide us with one, or all of them about 4 years ago; and she stopped talking to me for 2 or 3 years. She only recently started speaking to me again upon finding out that I was handling things now. Additionally, we have never been provided with any deeds, copies of leases, titles, or, division orders.

I spoke with and hired an Estate Attorney in my state (which is not one of the states we have property in, or oil for that matter) about the lack of information provided to us and her lack of transparency throughout the hand off and over all. We discussed the idea of having Sara resign in order for me to take over as Trustee. She told me that having Sara resign wouldn’t release her from liability if we were to discover malfeasance or theft, it may release her responsibility to procure the documents and paperwork we want and need to be able to assess and manage the trust’s assets. The plan at that time was to send Sara a Demand for all ownership documentation, accountings, etc. and if she didn’t respond, bring the matter before a Judge.

Ultimately, I chose not to proceed with that attorney as she seemed far to busy as it was and she didn’t have any knowledge or experience in Oil & Gas anyway. Since then, I have been doing as much research as I can on my own in an effort to assess our assets from the trust’s origination to today so that I can have an idea of what we need from an attorney. Aka, I have not had any legal counsel to advise me or my decisions. Here in lies my dilemma:

I knew my aunt wasn’t going to give us the paperwork we need. Sure, we could go in front of a Judge who might make her come up with it but she’s old and she could probably draw it out long enough that I’m better off obtaining it myself. (i.e IRS past filings request, contacting the accounting firm she used, running title, Texasfile.com, bank statements, etc). At this point, I was at a standstill because I was the only one searching for information, yet I was not a Trustee. (Let’s just say, I’ve been doing A LOT of emailing when phone calls would be soooooo much easier.)

So I decided… I need on the trust. I have enough information to know that she has not managed our trust with our “best interest” in mind, at all. She has sold our properties without consulting or informing us, negotiated lease agreements and bonuses while omitting the monetary value of said agreements from the record books and I am 90% certain she has been funding the trust account she turned over to us, from another account.

She had to go.

Sure, I could have been added to the trust along with her. But I just wanted her gone. I sent her a resignation of trustee document with an amicable email saying thank you, bye, bye. She promptly returned it, I took it to the bank along with my appointment and acceptance and the new COT. Boom! I’m on the trust. She’s off. Phew…

Not so much. Yesterday, I run a search by county on Texasfile and just one week after signing her resignation; she filed a bunch of stuff regarding my mother’s estate in just one (so far) particular county. There’s an acceptance, an appointment, an affidavit of heir, PROBATE… Probate? My mother died 14 years ago…? How is there still probate being filed??? There’s also a Release and a Letter of Testamentary???

I AM FREAKING OUT??! What does this mean. I obviously need to hire a lawyer, like yesterday… but given what’s left of our mineral rights; we can barely afford one. Which means I need to sell some of our rights first to come up with a decent retainer fee! I don’t even know how long it takes to sell and I don’t know which ones to sell.

But in the meantime; my real question is: what the heck is she up to? I can only assume that she left some assets out of the trust and kept them in the Estate so now she’s accepting her role as PR of the estate and sealing the estate with those assets under her name?

I feel like I caused this by letting her/asking her to resign?! So far only one county has shown up like this but are the others ones being processed as we speak? What does this mean? And without a lawyer on the ready and in the know, do I even stand a chance at intervening or stopping this from happening?

I’m scared, stressed, and feeling like a fool. I need all the help I can get. Where do I even begin?

It may be time for an actual physical sit-down with your aunt and ask her these questions. Try and explain why you need her to coordinate with you as successor Trustee. Thank her for all the hard work she did in the past, but it’ s your job now. Also, who are the other beneficiaries? Have you shared your concerns with them? Can you get one of them to join you in meeting with her? You might ask the others about removing her as executor of your mother’s estate if she is working at cross-purposes with you. Try to focus on this as business and leave hurt feelings out of it. I know that’s hard to do, and advice is easy to give. Wishing you good luck.

It is understandable how upset you are about a lack of clarity and information. First question is timeline. When were quit claim deeds from Estate to Trust filed - before or after any sales of the minerals to 3rd parties. Are the sales deeds in the name of the Estate or the name of Trust - did your aunt sign as executor or as trustee? Second, if sold by Estate, was that approved by judge? If sold by Trust, do you have a copy of the trust document to see if there were any limitations on trustee’s powers? Third, were royalties paid in the name of your mother or in the name of Estate of Jane Smith or in name of Jane Smith Trust? Fourth, Some states require ancillary probate - such as OK and NM. Texas only needs a copy of probate from state where your mother died. The chain of title needs to be cleared up. However you might want to stop this process if it is being done to validate 3rd party sales. Fifth, you should not start randomly selling minerals as you are not in a position to value the minerals and will likely have losses. Sixth, you are going to need legal assistance from an oil and gas title attorney in each state. You might want to file notice of your appointment as sole successor trustee in deed records to give notice that your aunt has no more authority. Finally, I can understand your reluctance to give name of your mother and states and counties, but you might get some far better advice where someone can look at some land records and see what is going on. Going it all alone is very difficult. And you can get some names of appropriate lawyers.

4 Likes

@TennisDaze!!! Yes!!! These are the questions I have and need answers to. Is there a way to DM you? Or can we exchange information and perhaps talk?

I mean, there’s quit deeds going from the trust to the Estate, from the Estate to the Trustee as an individual, etc. There’s some that are coming from neither my mother’s estate or trust, just her as an individual to the trustee individually?! The trust is listed 13 to 14 different ways. The estate still has leases… and some of the Quit Claims from my Grandmother’s trust to my mother and her sisters; have the three other sisters names 3 or 4 times as Grantor’s and my mother trust listed once?! Not to mention that there also seems be leases under my Grandmother’s trust as recent as lasst year… and that trust was supposed to be dissolved in 2013?!

As far as when the quit deed claims were done… that’s the other fishy thing. Most were done in 2012 from what I can tell. My mother passed in 2009. I believe this was due to the need to dissolve my grandmother’s trust although, again; not sure. That being said, some quit claims deeds were recorded as recently as 2014 or 2015. There’s a probate filed in Reeves county in 2016?! Please tell me I’m not crazy right… so much of this just doesn’t add up!

Beyond that, there’s no exhibit A in most of the Quit Claims from her estate to the trust, leaving much confusion as to what was acutally transferred into her name.

As for the leases and asssignments, it’s the trustee whose signing them, but from what I can tell; most of the assignments or (Ratification’s even), have the very last clause of the contract crossed out:

I can’t be sure it looks like this is regarding the heirs to the trust in some regard?? Perhaps that’s standard - no clue.

The recordings usually have a hand written or typed note on them stating that : both parties have agreed to omit the financial specifics in the records? Which, it is my understanding that this is indeed, standard these days.

And as far as you recommendation of filing notice of being sole successor; unfortunately, that is not the case as I am merely a co-trustee. I do agree on hiring legal counsel and putting a stop to this though.

Would love to discuss matters further with you if you are willing or available? Please let me know at your convenience and thank you so much!!!

Thank you the response @J_Walker. The beneficiaries are my 2 siblings and myself. Two of which are now co-trustee’s. The one who isn’t could pretty much care less about any of it, as long as she gets her checks.

The interesting thing is that my aunt has been in touch since my taking over as she knows I’m the only one who stands a chance at making sense of over 1000 separate mineral rights throughout several states. Prior to this, we hadn’t spoken for 3 or 4 years, which was spurred by my requesting an accounting.

The thing is; my aunt is a religious, sober, good, honest person, right? My father, her brother in law, actually refuses to believe that she would take anything from anyone and went so far as to say “I don’t think that woman has a bad bone in her body”.

Which makes this even more difficult. She certainly hasn’t been transparent or forthcoming with us during this transition and whenever I speak to her; I feel like she’s giving me inaccurate or vague answers that leave me more confused than anything.

Some of the information I come across makes me believe that it is as clear as day that she has been conducting some questionable transactions and business practices. Yet, then I’ll find another article of information or data that makes me second guess this theory.

All I know is that she is isn’t in the best of health and just getting to the point of recording the new COT with the counties and notifying the companies in order to make the switch from her as the Trustee to myself, is going to take some time. My guess is 3-4 months. (Waiting for the new checks in the mail, then have to send out the proper documentation to all 20 counties in TX, with their specific requirements for each, potentially having them sent back to be corrected and then OK, and NM, and on and on).

What I need is an attorney I think. She’s not bending on providing us with any further information than she has. I am hoping someone can refer me to an attorney who might not be super expensive or super busy either. Cuz from what I can tell, all her stuff is now in her trust. Which means that if we were to find malice or malfeasance on her part; is there even a chance at recuperating any of the rights or funds is she’s gone and her assets are in her trust.

I love my aunt and I do appreciate her taking care of our trust for so long… but not if she’s wasn’t working on behalf of our best interest.

Also, we’re not super close. Like, me flying out to see her would properly be shut down the minute I pitched it because she’d know it was strictly regarding the trust and not me just wanting to visit my aunt. It’s unfortunate. But that’s the reality.

Regarding your aunt being a religious, sober, etc. person. The patriarch of my first wife’s family designed a trust that would distribute his sizable assets to each of his children and each of his grandchildren. As he grew old, his wife and youngest daughter (a “Devout Christian” etc. convinced him to change the trust and appoint the youngest daughter and her husband as the trustees. In the new trust, the youngest daughter and her husband would have total control over the distribution of the assets. After my father in law and his second wife passed away, the “Devout Christians” (husband claimed such also), kept all of the assets and the rest of the family, 2 daughters, a son, and 8 grandchildren got nothing. My ex father in law used to say, “Trust everyone, but always cut the cards!” No matter what your dad says, sometimes really outwardly good people do wrong things.

1 Like

Tennis Daze has solid advice. In order:

  1. Take a breath. don’t take any action until you secure legal advice.
  2. Secure legal advice in the state or states where the properties are. I would start where the Trust was set up. (I hate to say this, but if the posters on this website suggest taking action and you haven’t talked to your attorney about it, then don’t do it. If you have this many interests, don’t cheap out. You wouldn’t go on a website and take advice on how to do your own dental work, would you.)
  3. Keep and find as many records as you can. If you are now the signatory party on the bank account, then secure all the bank statement you can.

My suggestion about possibly removing your aunt as executor was based on some of your comments regarding her age and the possibility of diminished capacity. It was not to impugn her character. Unfortunately, we had to remove an executor due to mental health issues. This of course is a legal action, and none of my suggestions are meant to circumvent proper legal representation by a qualified attorney. Just sharing our experience. We found it best to have other beneficiaries in agreement that the action was necessary beforehand.

J, my comment wasn’t directed at you. It was a general comment of securing legal advice.

Agree with your advice.