Trusts are important financial planning tools. They can protect your assets, ensure financial security for future generations, and help you pass assets to your beneficiaries as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, trust disputes sometimes arise. These disputes can interfere with the founder’s purpose in establishing a trust. Florida trust litigation can ensure that the founder’s intent is respected, beneficiaries receive the benefits they are owed, and trustees fulfill their fiduciary and legal obligations. It is important for trust grantors, trustees, and beneficiaries to have the advice of an experienced Florida trust litigator throughout these legal proceedings.
If you are searching for a trust litigation attorney near you, you don’t have to keep looking. Upchurch Law is an experienced trust and estate litigation law firm and is prepared to protect your legal rights. Our experienced team handles fiduciary litigation, trust disputes, trustee representation, and all related trust litigation matters. Our trust dispute lawyers know how to handle all types of legal issues—both in and out of court. Read on to learn more about how a trust litigation lawyer can help you, the common types of trust disputes, trustee lawsuits, and the pros and cons of litigation.
How a Trust Lawyer Can Help You Before, During, and After Trust Litigation
You might wonder whether you actually need to hire a lawyer in order to resolve your trust dispute. There are many important things a trust attorney does before, during, and after litigation to protect trustees from liability and enforce beneficiaries’ legal rights.
Before committing to the time, expense, and effort of litigation, it is important to understand all your legal options. Many cases can be resolved outside of court. If it is possible to settle your claims or negotiate changes in the administration of the trust, you may be able to protect your legal rights without filing suit in the probate court. Our experienced Florida trust lawyer knows all the options that are available—and what legal strategy is best suited to your unique case.
A trust attorney can also protect trustees from liability before litigation is even contemplated. Many trustee disputes involve allegations of a breach of fiduciary obligations. A lawyer can advise a trustee on their obligations in order to reduce their exposure to various types of legal liability. Legal requirements of trustees can be fiduciary obligations, procedural requirements, or nuanced theories derived from case law. There are many legal obligations that fall upon a trustee. By seeking an attorney’s advice, a trustee can develop a proactive legal strategy that offers comprehensive protection from future liability.
If a trust dispute must go to court, it is crucial for all interested parties to be represented by an attorney. An attorney protects your legal rights at all stages of litigation by performing the following duties:
- Ensuring that you respond to pleadings on time
- Reviewing evidence from other attorneys and objecting to anything that should not be admissible in court
- Getting depositions, documents, witness lists, and other evidence to support your claim
- Preventing unnecessary delays that will increase your litigation expenses
- Determining whether you have the right to a jury trial (If not, your case will be a bench trial heard by a judge)
- Developing a comprehensive trial strategy
- Objecting to evidence or testimony at trial
- If necessary, filing an appeal of the trial verdict or award
Once litigation is over, legal issues do not just go away. Trustees can still be exposed to liability for their ongoing administration of the trust. Trust beneficiaries can still face violations of their financial and legal rights. A trust attorney has multiple ways to prevent issues like this from arising. First, you might need a court order to enforce your settlement. For example, suppose that beneficiaries sue a trustee for more transparency in accounting. In order to enforce a settlement on this issue, the beneficiaries may need a court order that grants them access to specific financial statements or accounts. Second, you might need an attorney’s oversight to ensure that similar violations do not happen in the future. Your attorney will know what warning signs to look for and what the appropriate responses should be.
Trustees must also be careful after litigation. In order to prevent future liability, a trustee should get legal advice about the ongoing management of the trust. An attorney can protect the trustee from future liability by ensuring that there is a comprehensive legal strategy in place. A trust lawyer will also know how to demonstrate clear compliance to manage future trust disputes before they result in more litigation.
Types of Trust Disputes
There are many disagreements that can arise in the creation, administration, or dissolution of a trust. Our practice covers all types of trust disputes. Some of the most common types are as follows:
- The validity of a trust (due to incapacity, fraud, forgery, undue influence, duress, and other factors)
- Potential violations of a trustee’s fiduciary obligations and other legal responsibilities
- Disagreements about the management and administration of trust funds
- Benefits owed under the trust
- Misunderstandings or disagreements related to ambiguous trust terms
- Disinheritance of relatives in a testamentary trust (one that is used in lieu of or in conjunction with a will)
- Enforcing creditors’ rights against trust assets
- Defending a trust from creditors’ claims against trust assets
Whatever your dispute is, our experienced attorneys can help you determine if Florida trust litigation is the right strategy for resolving your claims.
Types of Trustee Lawsuits
There are many types of lawsuits that can be filed against trustees. There are also legal claims that may be pursued by trustees, so it is important for trustees to understand their role. Our legal services can help trustees ensure that they are operating in accordance with the law and protect their legal rights when necessary.
Trustees have fiduciary obligations over trust assets—and, by extension, to the beneficiaries who are entitled to receive these assets. Violations of these duties can subject a trustee to personal liability. Personal liability means that any judgments are not covered by trust assets and must be paid out of the trustee’s own personal funds. Fiduciary violations are not always easy to avoid. For example, most trustees are aware that they have a duty to avoid business transactions that bring about a conflict of interest. But how does a trustee know if a particular deal creates a conflict of interest with the trust? And if there is a conflict, how does a trustee ensure that they put the trust’s legal interest ahead of their own? And even if the trustee acts correctly in all these dealings, how can they ensure that their actions are documented and defensible in court?
Trustees can avoid these problems by hiring a trust litigation attorney to advise them on their obligations as soon as they take office. Getting legal advice can save huge amounts of time and money on later litigation. Trustees are even entitled to use trust assets to get legal advice, so long as the legal services are on behalf of the trust and not the trustee personally. The best way to avoid liability is to have a legal strategy in place from the start. Even if you think you understand the role of the trustee, it is still important to protect the trust assets with advice from a trust litigation attorney.
Claims Against the Trust
Trusts are often used as a tool to shield assets from financial liabilities. In some cases, there are legal exemptions that allow creditors to access these assets even though they have been placed in a trust. A grantor cannot always avoid liability by placing assets in a trust. In other cases, the trust itself has incurred debts or financial liability. For example, suppose a trust holds real estate that is sold in order to distribute the proceeds to beneficiaries. The buyer could have a legal claim against the trust if, for example, required legal disclosures were not made in the course of the transaction. In this case, the trustee would be obligated to defend the suit against the trust and limit the trust’s financial and legal liabilities as much as possible. Trustees must be prepared to defend any litigation brought against the trust.
Claims Brought by the Trust
Sometimes a trust will incur its own legal claims against third parties. For example, suppose a trustee hires an accountant to prepare tax documents. The accountant files incorrect disclosures and causes the trust to incur additional taxes and penalties. In this case, the trust itself would have a malpractice claim against the negligent accountant. The trustee must be prepared to file suit and pursue the trust’s legal claim. If they do not, they have wasted a potential judgment (which is a trust asset) and could be committing negligence on their own part. An experienced Florida trust attorney can help trustees assess any legal claims the trust may have in order to ensure that no trust asset is wasted.
Call Us Today to Speak With a Florida Trust Litigation Attorney
If you need a trust litigation attorney, you have already found the top law firm in Florida. Our experienced trust and estate lawyer handles all types of trust disputes. We can help protect beneficiaries who are not receiving the full benefits they are owed as well as trustees who are accused of fiduciary or legal violations. We also help interested parties ensure that the grantor’s original intention is respected throughout the administration of the trust. Contact us to schedule your consultation as soon as possible. The sooner you have a trust litigation lawyer on your side, the better protected your legal rights will be.
Trust Litigation FAQs
What Is Trust Litigation?
Trust litigation occurs when a lawsuit is filed in court over a trust dispute. Trust litigation is often initiated by beneficiaries who feel their legal rights are not being protected by the trustee. These beneficiaries might allege a breach of fiduciary duties, mismanagement by the trustee, or simple neglect that has allowed trust assets to depreciate. Trustees can also initiate litigation to pursue legal claims the trust has, defend themselves against beneficiary disputes, or even petition the court to allow them to resign. A trust litigation lawyer can represent any of these parties in court when there are trust disputes.
What Is Fiduciary Litigation?
Trustees have fiduciary obligations under the law. These obligations protect the beneficiaries’ rights in the trust by limiting the trustee’s financial powers. Under Florida law, a trustee must abide by the following:
- Administer the trust in good faith
- Act loyally to the trust (for example, by not putting their own financial interests above those of the trust)
- Act impartially toward all beneficiaries’ legal interests
- Use reasonable care, skill, and caution in administering the trust and act as a prudent trust administrator would act in similar circumstances
- Take reasonable steps to protect trust property and assets (including filing or defending legal claims against trust assets)
- Keep beneficiaries reasonably informed about all property and assets that are under the trustee’s control
- Provide beneficiaries with an annual account (if not more often) and inform them of any change in trustee or termination of the trust
When a trustee fails to meet these legal obligations, a beneficiary can sue to enforce their legal rights to the trust. This is known as fiduciary litigation. Even potential beneficiaries can initiate fiduciary litigation if they can prove that they have a legal right to trust assets.
What Is the Difference Between a Trust and a Will?
A will is a legal document that a person executes to specify what they wish to happen to their assets and property after they have died. This document does not become effective until the death of the person who writes it (the testator). Property that passes to heirs through a will can be subject to estate taxes.
A trust, on the other hand, is a set of legal relationships created to protect assets and property. The person who creates it (the grantor) places property into the trust to give it certain legal protections. Once the property is placed in a trust, it is managed by a trustee, who has a legal obligation to protect all trust assets for the benefit of those named in the trust (the beneficiaries). Beneficiaries can be family members, friends, charitable organizations, or anyone else who the grantor would like to have the trust assets.
A living trust (a trust created during someone’s lifetime) becomes effective as soon as the trust documents are executed. On the other hand, a testamentary trust (a trust created by a will) comes into being when the grantor passes away. A trust can be made revocable by the grantor, meaning they can take their assets from the trust back into their own possession. A trust can also be made irrevocable for tax purposes and other legal benefits. An irrevocable trust retains its assets, and the grantor has no legal right to take back the property that was placed in trust.
Wills and trusts are sometimes used together as part of a comprehensive estate plan. For example, a person’s will might stipulate that all the property should go into a charitable trust for the benefit of a non-profit organization. In other cases, a person might create a trust during their lifetime and place certain funds in it for the benefit of their children and grandchildren. Upon the grantor’s death, the remainder of their assets could be added to this trust by operation of their will. A trust lawyer can determine which estate planning tools are best suited to your unique situation and how to ensure that your wishes concerning all assets are carried out both before and after your death.
What Does an Estate Litigation Lawyer Do?
An estate litigation lawyer represents parties who are involved in disputes related to wills, trusts, or other estate matters. The dispute could be over a trust or over the estate of someone who has died. An estate litigation lawyer can represent the beneficiaries (or intended beneficiaries) of a trust or will. The litigator can also represent a trustee or an estate administrator who has been accused of mismanaging estate assets. A lawyer can even serve as the trustee, though these lawyers are different from estate litigators who either file claims against the estate or defend the estate from legal claims. Estate litigators protect the legal rights of their clients, either by protecting trustees and administrators from liability or by ensuring that all intended beneficiaries receive the property they are entitled to under a will or trust.
Who Can Challenge a Will or Trust?
In order to challenge a will or trust, a party must have legal standing. Legal standing means that the person has a recognized interest in the estate. Beneficiaries who are named in a will or trust clearly have standing, but there are many cases where standing is not so clear. For example, suppose a person creates a trust for the benefit of their grandchildren. Under this broad category, it is not clear exactly who is included. Did the grantor intend for adopted grandchildren to benefit equally with natural grandchildren? What about biological grandchildren who were raised by another family and never knew the grantor? Are all future grandchildren included, or is there some deadline to allow the trust to be terminated at a specific point in time? What about a grandchild who passes away—can their child inherit their share? In this case, anyone who can claim to be a grandchild (either under a legal definition or a definition provided by the grantor when the trust was created) would have standing to challenge the trust. This example shows how even trusts that seem simple can quickly become intensely complicated.
Issues related to standing often arise when a trust is modified by an amendment or when a will is modified by a codicil. These modifications often result in changes to one party’s benefits. For example, suppose a will was modified by a codicil in order to disinherit one of the testator’s two children. Even though the omitted child has no right to benefits under the codicil, they still have standing to challenge the codicil in court. Perhaps it was produced as the result of coercion or undue influence. It might have been the product of fraud or even forged altogether. The omitted child has standing to challenge the codicil in this circumstance.
As these examples should make clear, many parties could potentially have standing to dispute a will or trust. It is not always clear exactly who has the right to initiate a lawsuit. You should never assume that you have no legal rights in an estate until you consult with an estate litigator about your unique situation. Even if you have been told by the trustee or their lawyer that you have no rights, you are entitled to get an opinion from a lawyer who represents your interests and not those of the estate or trustee.
Which Parties Can Your Firm Represent in a Trust Dispute?
Many parties have a legal interest in the formation, administration, or dissolution of a trust. This legal interest gives them standing to dispute a trust in court. Our experienced trust litigators represent all parties with standing, including the following:
- Potential beneficiaries (such as a disinherited relative)
If you are not sure whether you have legal standing, it is still important to consult with a Florida trust attorney about your case. You need a legal professional who is on your side to give you a fair assessment of your legal rights in any situation.
What Are the Types of Florida Trusts?
There are many different types of trusts that can be created under Florida law. Some of the most common are as follows:
- Living trusts
- Charitable remainder trusts
- Charitable lead trusts
- Domestic asset protection trusts
- Grantor retained annuity trusts
- Qualified domestic trusts
There are pros and cons to each type of trust. The trust that is right for you will depend on your assets and liabilities, your intended beneficiaries, and the amount and nature of the property you wish to place in the trust. Our Florida trust team will help you meet your financial goals with the right type of trust and other estate planning tools.
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