Trusts offer numerous advantages over a traditional will and many use them as an estate planning tool to help ensure the needs and wishes of a settlor (also known as a grantor or trustor) are carried out.
Unfortunately, trusts can present challenges and are not immune from disputes, which can arise between the beneficiaries of the trust and involve the trustees who are responsible for administering the trust. These disputes are often extraordinarily complicated and involve complex legal issues. Adding to an already complex situation, a trust dispute can create emotional and financial strain on family relationships. If you’re facing a trust dispute, discussing your case with trusted Florida and Palm Beach County trust dispute lawyers can help you understand your options.
Common Types of Trust Litigation
While every case is unique, most trust disputes (and trust litigation) fall into one of three categories:
- Breach of Fiduciary Duty - Disputes revolving around the trustee’s failure to responsibly manage the trust
- Trust Contests - Disputes concerning the validity of the trust itself
- Trust Reformation and Modification - Disputes involving proposed modifications to the trust
In some cases, the dispute may involve more than one of these issues.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Trustees have a legal obligation to manage the trust according to its terms and in the best interest of the beneficiaries. To put it another way, the trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries. When trustees fail to responsibly manage the trust, they have breached their fiduciary duty.
Cases involving the breach of fiduciary duty can be very complicated, as trustees may have some discretion in how they manage the assets of the trust. Furthermore, their obligation to act in the beneficiaries’ best interests may include paying creditors and honoring other obligations to other third parties. Disputes claiming that the trustee has breached their fiduciary duty typically focus on the trustee’s actions or failure to act.
Contesting a Trust
Other common trust disputes involve challenging the validity of the trust itself. Under Florida law, a trust can be challenged in one of three ways:
- Lack of capacity. The person creating the trust (the “settlor” in legal terms) must be of sound mind when the trust is created, which means that they must be able to understand the terms and consequences of the trust. Lack of capacity claims often arise in cases where the settlor suffered from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other mental illness.
- Undue influence. In an undue influence case, the person challenging the trust is arguing that the settlor was inappropriately influenced by someone else to their own benefit.
- Lack of formalities. Similar to a will, certain formalities must be observed when a trust is executed. For example, the trust must be signed by the settlor and appropriately witnessed. Failure to follow the formalities required by Florida law could invalidate the trust itself.
In addition to handling a trust dispute, our Florida and Palm Beach County trust dispute lawyers can review your trust and determine whether it is susceptible to challenge.
Trust Modifications & Reformations
After the original trust is created, the parties may desire to change the trust years later. For example, a trust may be reformed in order to correct a legal or factual mistake or to conform to the settlor’s intent. Alternatively, a trust may be modified in order to meet the settlor’s tax objectives. As you might imagine, a trust reformation or modification can lead to controversy that results in litigation. The modification or reformation often involves disputes over what the settlor’s intent was, which may be to one person’s benefit over another’s. An experienced team of Florida and Palm Beach County trust dispute lawyers can help you navigate the process in order to achieve a fair result.
Our Florida and Palm Beach County Trust Dispute Lawyers Can Help
Trust disputes and litigation can be mentally and financially exhausting. The Florida and Palm Beach County trust dispute lawyers at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun, are here to help. Contact us either online or by calling us at 561-626-2101 or toll-free at 800-226-1484.