A Palm Beach County Trust Litigation Lawyer Can Ease the Stress of a Trust Matter in Florida
Trusts are helpful tools in estate planning to avoid probate. Nonetheless, as a Florida and Palm Beach County trust litigation attorney from our firm will explain, all too often a trust creates problems for those involved in administering them, known as the trustees, and those that inherit from them, known as the beneficiaries. Trusts can strain family relationships and lead to disputes.
Often, disputes involving a trust revolve around an action or inaction by the trustee regarding the trust. The following are examples of some common types of trust disputes:
- Breach of Fiduciary Duty
- Contesting a Trust
- Trust Reformation and Modification
By statute, the losing party must pay the fees and costs of most types of trust litigation. Depending on the dispute, fee awards provide a benefit to the prevailing party but also act as a deterrent in bringing lawsuits.
If you are involved in a trust dispute, it's best to consult with a Florida and Palm Beach County trust litigation lawyer at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun to better understand your rights and risks regarding the trust dispute.
What Causes Trust Disputes?
Trust disputes often arise when there are substantial amounts of money involved, there is family conflict involved, or both. These disputes can arise between a trustee or other fiduciary and beneficiaries, between beneficiaries, or from third parties. Some of the most common reasons for trust disputes include:
- The grantor did not have the mental capacity to create the trust.
- The grantor was subject to undue influence.
- The language of the trust documents is ambiguous, vague, or unclear.
- The trust did not meet Florida trust law requirements, such as proper witnesses or signatures.
- The trustee violated Florida state law when distributing trust assets.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
A trustee is an individual who administers a trust. A trustee owes duties to beneficiaries, qualified beneficiaries, other co-trustee(s), the settlor(s) and sometimes even creditors. Trust disputes arise over the trustee's actions or inactions—namely the failure to prudently administer the trust. Trust litigation arises over a trustee's failure to properly account for the beneficiaries and qualified beneficiaries who are entitled to an accounting no less than annually.
We have also handled disputes that arise when a trustee acts in their own self-interest, provides themselves excessive compensation or when the trustee fails to exercise the best judgment regarding safe-keeping and/or investing trust property.
Consult with a Florida and Palm Beach County trust litigation lawyer at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun to determine the appropriate remedy for a trustee's alleged breach, including the removal of the trustee.
Contesting a Trust with the Help of a Palm Beach County Trust Litigation Lawyer
A trust can be challenged in Florida on the following grounds:
- Lack of capacity
- Undue influence
- Lack of formalities
An action to contest the validity of all or part of a revocable trust—or the revocation of part of a revocable trust—can not begin until the trust is irrevocable either because of the settlor's death or by the terms of the trust.
Lack of Capacity
The person creating the trust, known as the "settlor," must be of "sound mind" to execute a valid trust. The person who creates the trust must have the mental ability to understand the details outlined in the trust and the practice effect of the trust as executed. Lack of capacity most commonly refers to a settlor who suffers from senility, dementia, Alzheimer's, or other cognitive impairment.
A trust is the product of undue influence if the trust is the product of another's decision-making and judgment instead of the person making the trust. A presumption of undue influence arises when:
- A party occupied a confidential relationship with the settlor.
- A party was a substantial beneficiary under the trust.
- A party was active in procuring the trust.
Lack of Formalities
In order for the testamentary aspects of a revocable trust to be valid, the trust must be executed with the same formalities as a will. The trust must be in writing, signed at the end by the settlor—or another person at the settlor's direction—and be signed in front of two witnesses, who each sign in the presence of the settlor and each other.
Trust Reformation & Modification
A trust may be reformed upon application and proof by clear and convincing evidence. Trusts are reformed because of mistakes in fact or law, or to conform to the settlor's intent.
Trusts may also be modified to achieve tax objectives. For example, if the governing federal or state tax law has changed since the settlor created the trust, the trust can be modified by the Court to achieve the settlor's tax objectives.
Trust and Trust Litigation FAQs
Some of the more common questions Floridians have regarding trust litigation include the following.
What is Trust Litigation?
Trust litigation is a type of lawsuit or legal claim designed to resolve disputes over the execution, administration, or distribution of a trust. Even a trust created by an experienced trust planning attorney can be challenged. Trust litigation is most likely when there are substantial assets involved or there is a history of family disputes. Trust litigation is even more common when a particular family member feels that he or she was treated unfairly in the trust.
What Rights Do Surviving Spouses Have?
In Florida, spouses have certain rights to the family property contained in a deceased spouse's estate. Therefore, if a trust purports to distribute such family property to someone other than you, you have a right to contest the trust unless you have knowingly and willingly surrendered those rights in writing.
Do I Need a Will if I Have a Trust?
Technically, no. However, if any property is not transferred to the trust, then a Court proceeding may be necessary to distribute these assets. It is common practice to have what is called a "pour-over will" that directs any unaccounted-for assets into the trust.
Does a Trust Avoid Probate?
Yes, if properly drawn, this is one of the primary benefits of utilizing a trust in your estate plan.
What Costs More, A Trust or a Will?
Generally speaking, a will costs less to set up than a trust, although a will lacks a number of important advantages provided by a trust, which may save you significant money in the future.
Does a Trust Avoid Inheritance Taxes?
No, but a properly drawn-up trust may help you minimize such taxes.
Do I Have to Transfer Assets Into a Trust?
Yes, a trust does not affect any property that is not transferred into the trust, essentially rendering an asset-free trust useless.
Can I Change My Trust?
It depends. A revocable trust can be amended, but an irrevocable trust cannot. Deciding which is best for your particular situation is an issue that you should discuss with a Florida and Palm Beach County trust litigation attorney at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun.
Contact a Florida and Palm Beach County Trust Litigation Lawyer at Our Firm for Help
At Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun, we have an experienced legal team that can help you with not only trust litigation, but also with related areas of Florida law such as asset protection planning, estate planning and administration, estate litigation, trust and trust administration, probate, tax planning, mediation, and business entities and transactions.
For more information on trust disputes and trust litigation, contact the Palm Beach County trust litigation lawyers of Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun, either online or by calling us toll-free at 1-800-226-1484. We work with clients in Palm Beach County, including Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens, and throughout the state of Florida.