Basically, unless revoked, a trust is a legally binding agreement governing how the property in the trust will be administered and distributed. Trusts have become an integral part of estate planning – the process by which owners of assets and property plan ahead to ensure the proper dispensation of their wealth.
Like other legal instruments, however, trusts are not immune from disputes between the various parties that have an interest in the trust:
- The person who established and “funded” the trust.
- The trustee who has the task of managing the trust assets.
- The beneficiaries who will receive income and/or assets from the trust.
Trusts that remain in operation for considerable periods of time are particularly susceptible to disputes, as over time needs and circumstances change and opportunities for misconduct grow.
A considerable portion of trust disputes and litigation derive from the fact that the trustee is often given wide ranging discretion with respect to investments and distributions of income and/or principal. Claims that a trustee breached the duties imposed by law and the terms of the trust may often raise technical points of trust law, requiring legal analysis and determinations.
An experienced Florida trust attorney can bring to bear the skills and knowledge for settling the disputes quickly and avoiding the financial and psychological costs of protracted litigation.
Types of Trust Disputes
The kinds of disputes over a trust are limited only by the imaginations of the parties involved. Among the common disputes that result in litigation are:
- Disagreements over the meaning of trust terms.
- Claims that the current or a former trustee misappropriated trust assets or engaged in “self-dealing.”
- Claims that the current or a former trustee mismanaged the trust by making improper investments, acquisitions or dispositions.
- Claims that the trustees have breached their duties by failing to provide for a beneficiary as the trust requires or, alternatively, has provided too much to one beneficiary to the detriment of other beneficiaries.
- The need to reform or terminate the trust.
Obviously, mismanagement of the trust assets is most likely to be remedied by an award of money, designed to compensate for the beneficiary’s financial loss. The financial resolution can get more complicated when the trustee has personally benefited from the mismanagement, especially if the amount of the beneficiary’s loss is less than the amount of the trustee’s improper gain; the trustee generally has to give up all the improper gain.
However, not all problems can be solved simply through money damages, and there are cases in which non-monetary relief is the main, even the sole, remedy sought. Among the most common non-monetary remedies sought in trust litigation are:
- Orders removing a trustee.
- Orders that restore to the trust assets which had been disposed of improperly.
- Orders that deny or reduce the trustee’s compensation.
No Contest Clauses
The person who creates a trust obviously intends for that trust to perform as intended. One common method of ensuring that is to add a “no contest” clause to the trust deed, stating that any beneficiary of the trust who contests it is no longer eligible to receive benefits from the trust.
While most states enforce these clauses to some degree, Florida does not. We have a specific statute which makes these clauses unenforceable as to all trusts that were created on or after the first day of October, 1993.
The breathe of the Florida Statutes devoted to trusts is a testament in and of itself as to the complexity and technical aspects of trusts and the litigation that arises from them. Getting the help of an experienced Florida attorney who really understands trust law can minimize both the cost and mental anguish that often go hand in hand with trust litigation.
Whether you are a trustee, a beneficiary, a creditor, or any other person with an interest in property governed by a Florida trust agreement, the firm of attorney Todd A. Zuckerbrod in Boca Raton can help guide you to a favorable and expedient a result. Whatever the nature of the dispute or litigation, give us a call today. There is no fee for our initial consultation.