Trust Litigation Attorneys in Stuart, FL
A trustee has a fiduciary duty to administer a trust in a manner consistent with the trust maker’s purpose and the best interests of the beneficiaries. A breach of fiduciary duty can result in significant financial losses and cause irreparable harm. The Florida trust litigation attorneys at the Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A. can help you recoup your losses.
A trust is a legal entity that holds and administers the property of one person for the benefit of one or more other parties, known as beneficiaries. While trusts can be created and used at any time, they commonly take effect upon the death of the creator of the trust, who is also known as the settlor or grantor. The administrator of the trust is known as a trustee.
The role of trustee entails a solemn responsibility that was generally assigned by a grantor who placed great faith in the individual to manage the trust in accordance with his or her wishes. Trusts often hold significant assets, and trustees have the power to access and distribute these assets.
When a trustee breaches this duty, the beneficiaries have a legal right to take remedial action and pursue compensation for any losses that occurred as a result of the breach. A Florida trust litigation attorney at The Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A. can help.
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The Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A. is a professional law firm that offers personalized service with compassion, skill, and attention to detail. We have extensive experience in estate planning, including trust creation and litigation.
Our lawyers have won millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts on behalf of our clients and regularly receive such feedback as the following:
This type of feedback from our clients means everything to us at the Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A. because we have built our practice around our care and concern for humanity and a desire to help others. In addition to working tirelessly to achieve remarkable results for our clients, we give back to our local community where we live and work through volunteerism and charitable giving.
The Fiduciary Duty of a Trustee
The word “fiduciary” comes from the Latin word “fiducia,” which means “trust, confidence, reliance.” A trustee has a fiduciary duty to administer the trust in an ethical manner that complies with the terms of the trust and serves the interests of the beneficiaries.
While a trustee has the right to collect a reasonable salary from the assets contained in the trust, the trustee is required to carry out the administration of the trust without personally benefiting. A trustee has the right to delegate trust administration responsibilities, so long as this is done prudently.
The fiduciary responsibilities of a trustee include the following, according to Florida Statutes Chapter 736, otherwise known as the Florida Trust Code.
- Administer the trust in good faith and in accordance with its terms, purposes, and the law of Florida, in the best interests of the beneficiary.
- Administer the trust loyally and solely in the interests of the beneficiaries without creating a conflict of interest unless authorized by the trust or beneficiaries.
- Administer the trust impartially when two or more beneficiaries are named.
- Administer the trust prudently.
- Only incur reasonable expenses necessary to administer the trust in a manner consistent with its purpose.
- Control and protect the trust property.
- Maintain clear and accurate records of the trust’s administration and keep them in the custody of an uninterested third party and separate from the trustee’s personal records.
- Not mix or comingle personal assets with those of the trust.
- Enforce the claims of the trust and defend claims against the trust.
What is Trust Litigation?
Trust litigation occurs when a conflict arises between the beneficiary and the trustee. It most often occurs when the beneficiary alleges that the trustee has improperly administered the trust and violated at least one of the trustee’s fiduciary duties.
The Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A. can provide representation to any party involved in trust litigation that stems from a breach of trust, improper distributions, or changes in circumstances. We can also defend trustees against allegations of impropriety.
Breach of Trust
When a trustee fails to administer the trust appropriately according to the fiduciary duties described in the law and in the trust, a breach of trust occurs. Examples of a breach of trust include the following:
- Favoring one beneficiary over another
- Co-mingling funds
- Failing to disclose conflicts of interest
- Mismanaging funds in the trust
- Collecting unreasonable compensation from the trust
- Administering the trust in bad faith
- A trustee acting in their own interests in the administration of the trust
An improper distribution occurs when a trustee, personal representative, or executor of an estate improperly distributes assets in the fund to themselves or beneficiaries, perhaps in a partial manner, in violation of the terms of the trust or the best interests of the beneficiaries.
Florida’s estate and probate laws govern the disposition of assets of an estate. A probate attorney at the Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A. can help you determine how Florida probate laws apply to your family, including whether specific trust distributions are improper.
Changes in Circumstances
Trusts that are revocable during the lifetime of the grantor become irrevocable upon the death of the grantor. Unless all interested parties agree upon the changes, the terms of the trust can only be changed by court order for reasons specified in the Florida Trust Code, including the following:
- The purposes of the trust have been fulfilled.
- The purpose of the trust has become illegal, impossible, or impractical.
- Compliance with the existing terms would defeat the purpose of the trust due to circumstances unforeseeable by the settlor.
- The purpose of the trust no longer exists.
- The trust in its current state does not serve the best interests of the beneficiary.
The court must consider the intentions of the settlor, and it must be proven to the court that the requested changes are consistent with the settler’s intentions and the best interests of the beneficiaries.
Defense of Trustees
Investments made on behalf of the trust or depreciation of assets held in the trust may not meet the expectations of the beneficiaries. In the absence of negligence or a breach of trust, trustees cannot be held personally liable for depreciation or other losses that impact the trust.
When Can a Trust Be Contested?
The legitimacy of a trust may be called into question under certain circumstances, even if the settlor is still alive. However, Florida law limits the amount of time a person has to contest a trust to six months after the date the grantor sent a copy of the trust instrument to the trustee informing them of its existence, except as otherwise specified by law.
The Intentions of the Grantor
If the trust was created through nefarious means or by mistake, it can be invalidated by a court. This applies to any trust created when any of the following is true:
- Undue influence – An unfair dominant position or other advantage that would have caused the person to feel obligated to create the trust
- Fraud – Deception, false, or misleading conduct that influenced the creation of the trust or its terms
- Duress – Coercion or manipulation causing a person to feel compelled to create the trust or include specific terms
- Mistake – The creation of a trust in error
If a court finds that any of these conditions existed during the creation, amendment, or reinstatement of a trust, the court can negate the trust or the portion of the trust that was impacted by these means.
Florida law requires anyone creating a trust to meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor
- Be of sound mind
Consequently, if it is discovered that the grantor was an unemancipated minor or legally incompetent on the date the trust was created, a court may rule that the trust is not valid. A court may also find that an individual did not meet the sound mind criteria as a result of a cognitive impairment, such as dementia, that existed on the date the trust was created.
Can a Trustee Be Removed From a Trust?
If the trust is revocable and the settlor is still alive, the settlor can revoke or amend the trust as they see fit, including the removal of a trustee. In an irrevocable trust, the court may remove a trustee under the following circumstances:
- Serious breach of trust
- Lack of cooperation among co-trustees that impairs the administration of the trust
- Unfitness, unwillingness, or persistent failure to effectively administer the trust
- Significant changes in circumstances
- The request of all qualified beneficiaries
What is a Conflict of Interest in a Trust?
A conflict of interest in a trust occurs when the trustee is also a beneficiary. This creates a conflict of interest because it impairs the ability of the trustee to administer the trust with impartiality. A conflict of interest can also be created in any transaction involving the trust from which the trustee stands to benefit directly or indirectly, including the following:
- A sale, encumbrance, or other transaction involving persons closely associated with the trustee, including the following:
- Investment of trust assets in funds owned by the trustee or the trustee’s affiliates without proper disclosure
What Damages Can I Recover in a Breach of Trust Lawsuit?
When a trustee commits a breach of trust, you may have the right to recover significant damages, including the greater of the following:
- The amount necessary to restore the value of the trust to the state it would have attained had the breach not occurred, including lost income, capital gains, and appreciation; or
- The profit gained by the trustee as a result of the breach
If the trustee acted in bad faith, you may also qualify to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded as a punishment against the trustee rather than compensation for losses. Punitive damages in Florida are normally limited to $500,000 or three times the compensatory damages, whichever is greater.
However, when awarded to punish wrongful conduct motivated by unreasonable financial gain, punitive damages may be awarded in an amount up to four times the compensatory damages or $2 million, whichever is greater.
Remedies for a Breach of Trust
In addition to damages, you also have the right to petition the court to impose the following remedies against a trustee as a consequence of a breach of trust:
- An order compelling the performance of the trustee’s duties
- An order to restore property
- An order to provide an accounting of the trust administration
- The appointment of a special fiduciary to administer the trust
- Suspension or removal of the trustee
- Denial of compensation to the trustee
- Imposition of a lien
- Any other appropriate relief
How Can a Trust Litigation Attorney Help Me?
Whether you need to contest a trust, take action against a trustee, make changes to a trust, or defend yourself against an allegation related to a trust, an experienced Stuart, FL, trust litigation attorney at the Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A. can help.
Our experienced trust and estate litigation attorneys can provide a thorough investigation into misconduct concerning your trust, calculate your losses, and file a lawsuit on your behalf.
We are skilled negotiators who will work hard to restore your trust’s assets through a fair and reasonable settlement. If this is not possible, we are always prepared to present your case in court. We treat clients like family, and we will remain available to answer your questions and keep you up to date throughout your litigation.
Experienced Trust Litigation Attorneys in Stuart, FL
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