5 Ways a Florida Trust Can Be Challenged
Here in South Florida, probate courts routinely see beneficiaries file claims or challenges to the validity of a Florida trust or against a trustee because of concerns that something is or has gone wrong. Claims range from questioning the validity of the trust, interpretation of the trust language, the Trustee’s discretion, or maybe there has been some wrongdoing on the part of the fiduciary trustee or someone acting on his behalf (accountant, etc.). Florida trust litigation lawyers with experience in helping clients with trust contests and challenges to Florida trusts are aware that there are strict laws and longstanding principles of law (e.g., fiduciary duty) that must be followed whenever a Florida Trust is involved.
Florida Trust Lawsuits: Challenging the Trust (or the Trustee) in Court
There are many different ways that a Florida trust can be challenged, however it is most likely that one of the following types of claims will be asserted since these are the most common types of Florida trust litigation lawsuits:
- Challenging the Trust Overall as Being Invalid: Trust Contests
- Challenging Language in the Trust (and Its Interpretation): Trust Construction
- Suing the Trustee for Doing Bad Things: Breach of a Fiduciary Duty
- Suing to Get the Trustee Fired: Removal of an Agent or Fiduciary
- Challenging the Bookkeeping: Trust Accounting Disputes
Challenging the Trust Overall as Being Invalid: Trust Contests
In a Florida Trust Contest, the entire trust is being challenged as being unable to meet the requirements set by Florida courts and Florida statutes. The lawsuit argues that the trust itself is invalid. Sometimes, these challenges are based upon the language of the trust documents and the argument is based upon how that language should be construed. In other cases, the Florida Trust Contests are based upon how the trust was initially created (undue influence, etc.) or how it fails on its face to comply with the law (illegal assets cannot be placed in trust, taxes must be paid despite the trust’s language, etc.)
Challenging Language in the Trust (and Its Interpretation): Trust Construction
Florida trusts occasionally contain errors; mistakes were inadvertently made during their drafting. Sometimes, the language of the trust is not easy to understand: it’s confusing or unclear. In these situations, Florida Trust Lawyers file a lawsuit in order to get a judge’s ruling on how the problem should be resolved.
Sometimes, trust construction cases result in the trust language being revised (“reformed”) so that the trust will jive with Florida law. Sometimes, the judge is asked to interpret the language of the Trust to jive with the intent of the creator of the Trust. This happens when the trust documentation needs clarification on issues like certain powers or responsibilities of the Trustee; establishing what is the date of the Trust’s termination; or how money is to be held by the Trust.
Suing the Trustee for Doing Bad Things: Breach of a Fiduciary Duty
The trustee of the Florida trust is held to the highest standard of honorable conduct (“the punctilio of honor”), since the trustee is considered a “fiduciary” under the law and required to undertake the tasks of trustee at the level of competence, integrity, and diligence that is the fiduciary’s duty.
Unfortunately, trustees sometimes fail to meet that standard and commit one or more breaches of their fiduciary duty. When that happens, the Florida trust trial lawyer pursues claims in a Florida court against that individual as well as seeking to replace him or her in the role of Trustee. Examples of a trustee breaching their fiduciary duty include:
- Not following the trust’s language and instructions in how the trust is being administered
- Not being prudent and risk-adverse in investing the trust’s property
- Not distributing money or assets from the trust to the beneficiary(ies)
- Failing to distribute money or assets from the trust to the beneficiary(ies) in a timely manner
- Not making required accountings of the trust
- Failing to make accountings of the trust in a timely manner
- Taking trust assets for personal use (“self-dealing”)
- Overpaying the trustees’ fees
Suing to Get the Trustee Fired: Removal of an Agent or Fiduciary
There are times when the trustee is either failing to act or is doing bad things. Either way, because the trust documentation has given this person (or bank trust department) the authority to act on behalf of the trust, it will require legal intervention in order to rectify the situation and get the overreaching, imprudent, or neglectful trustee removed from the position to which the trust has placed him or her.
Challenging the Bookkeeping: Trust Accounting Disputes
Periodically, the trustee will be required to account for his actions in regard to the trust property and this is his fiduciary duty to provide an “accounting.” How this is done, when it is done, and what it reports can all be the subject of scrutiny and challenge in a Florida lawsuit as a challenge in court to the trust accounting (and what the trustee has or has not done here).
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South Florida Trust Lawyers Helping People in Broward County and South Florida Trust Disputes
At Hallandale Law, Florida Trust Lawyers work with people involved in a wide variety of Trust Lawsuits and Trust Claims both in Broward County as well as all of South Florida. As experienced Florida Trust attorneys, we provide clients involved in trust controversies or trust contests with compassionate and dedicated legal support in their challenge to a Florida Trust or Florida Trustee.
For those living in Florida as well as those who live here part of the year or who reside year-round in another country or state, we support them in the application of the Florida Trust Code and Florida court opinions to Florida trust questions and controversies. Please feel free to contact our offices for a free initial consultation to see how our Florida trial lawyers may be able to help you.
Hallandale Law principal and Florida trial lawyer Alan Sackrin is a Board Certified trial specialist with over 30 years of courtroom trial advocacy and case negotiation experience. Please feel free to contact South Florida trial attorney Alan Sackrin today for a free consultation.
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