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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Trust Litigation

Trustee’s Duty to Inform and Account

Written by on Dec 6, 2016| Posted in: Trust Litigation

A Trustee’s Duty to Inform and Account Under the Florida Law The essence of the trustee’s existence is to keep a trust’s beneficiaries adequately informed.  Florida probate practitioners, trust lawyers, and estate attorneys all recognize the reality that virtually all fiduciary litigation commences with a beneficiary not receiving a proper trust accounting or explanation of the trustee’s conduct.  The Florida Trust Code provides that a trustee has a duty to keep the “qualified beneficiaries” of an irrevocable trust reasonably informed of the trust and its administration.  Florida law also holds that while a trustee owes no duties to a contingent beneficiary, once the trust becomes irrevocable at the death of the settler, the beneficiary may sue for breach of a duty that the trustee owed to the settlor/beneficiary which was breached during the lifetime of the settlor and subsequently affects the interest of the vested beneficiary.  This general principle was […]

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Corya and Woodward

Written by on Jun 24, 2016| Posted in: Trust Litigation

LIMITATIONS ON PROCEEDINGS AGAINST TRUSTEES:  CORYA, WOODWARD AND FLA. STAT. §736.1008 The Florida Trust Code contains a section titled “limitations on proceedings against trustees” that is a limitation of actions and accrual of claims statute specifically applicable to claims for breach of fiduciary duty in the context of trusts.  Specifically, Fla. Stat. §736.1008 provides, in pertinent part, as follows (emphasis and commentary added for clarification): (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), all claims by a beneficiary against a trustee for breach of trust are barred as provided in chapter 95 as to: (a) All matters adequately disclosed in a trust disclosure document issued by the trustee, with the limitations period beginning on the date of receipt of adequate disclosure. NOTE:  (1)(a) provides that IF there is adequate disclosure in a trust disclosure document, THEN the 4-year statute of limitations (“SOL”) in Chapter 95 applies BUT the claim does not accrue until […]

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Who has standing to assert claim for tortious interference with an expectancy?

Written by on Oct 21, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH AN EXPECTANCY IS AN INTENTIONAL TORT AND THE DISAPPOINTED BENEFICIARY IS THE PERSON WITH STANDING TO BRING THE CLAIM Tortious interference with an expectancy has been a recognized tort theory in Florida since 1966.  Allen v. Leybourne 190 So.2d 825 (Fla. 3d DCA 1966) (“when there is an allegation that the testator had a fixed intention to make a bequest in favor of the plaintiff and there existed a strong probability that this intention would have been carried out but for the wrongful acts of the defendant there exists a cause of action”).    Several years later, the Third District Court of Appeals upheld the following jury instructions in a tortious interference with an expectancy case: The issues for your determination on the claim of the Plaintiff are whether prior to a certain date, Decedent had a formed, fixed intention to give Plaintiff a share of his estate, and, if […]

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DeWitt and the Importance of Adequate Probate Remedies

Written by on Oct 6, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

When is “failure to exhaust probate remedies” properly asserted as an affirmative defense to a tortious interference with an expectancy action?  The answer is almost never.  (Click here for information about the tort action.) The Dewitt v. Duce, 408_So.2d_216, (Fla. 1981), holding can be paraphrased as follows:  The State of Florida has an interest in the orderly succession of property and therefore prefers that a dispute concerning a decedent’s property be conducted in probate shortly after the decedent’s death rather than in a civil action years later.  Therefore, if you can achieve exactly the same result with a Will contest that you could with a tortious interference law suit, then you must chose the Will contest.  If you do not chose the Will contest, then you will be unable to sue for tortious interference later for one simple reason:  “The probate of a Will in Florida is conclusive of its due […]

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Can a contract defeat testamentary intent?

Written by on May 26, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

In a word, yes. In a blow to the unwed in the State of Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal recently held that an operating agreement entered into by a deceased business owner (the “Decedent”) trumped his stated testamentary intent to provide his longtime girlfriend with a lifetime payment of $5,000.00 per month, which was to be paid out of distributions from the company the Decedent formed with his sister.  Blechman v. Estate of Blechman, 160 So.3d 152 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015).  Despite the fact that the Decedent in Blechman had amended his trust to “to provide a ‘specific gift’ of his residence and ‘one half of the distributions from [his company], to’ a trustee for the benefit of  the Decedent’s girlfriend,” the Court refused to uphold the trial court’s order, which would have ensured the Decedent’s girlfriend received the $5,000.00 per month gift the Decedent’s estate plan provided. […]

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Trust Modification under Florida’s Trust Code

Written by on Dec 18, 2014| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Can a court consider extrinsic evidence when asked to modify a trust under the judicial modification statutes even if the trust instrument is unambiguous?  YES! Historically, common law rules of construction provided that the intent of a settlor of a trust should be ascertained from the “four corners” of the trust and that extrinsic evidence of the settlor’s intent should only be considered if there was an ambiguity in the trust instrument.  The effect of this common law rule was that a trustee or beneficiary seeking to modify the terms of the trust would only be permitted to do so if the court found that the trust, or a portion thereof, was ambiguous.  Absent ambiguity, the court was unable to consider any other evidence of the settlor’s intent and the beneficiaries were stuck with whatever the trust said on its face.  The old analysis changed when Florida adopted the Florida […]

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Undue Influence under Florida’s Trust Code

Written by on Sep 25, 2014| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Florida Statute § 736.0406 Effect of fraud, duress, mistake, or undue influence.— If the creation, amendment, or restatement of a trust is procured by fraud, duress, mistake, or undue influence, the trust or any part so procured is void. The remainder of the trust not procured by such means is valid if the remainder is not invalid for other reasons. If the revocation of a trust, or any part thereof, is procured by fraud, duress, mistake, or undue influence, such revocation is void. In 2006, the Florida legislature passed into law the new Florida Trust Code. Of the numerous provisions codified into statute under Chapter 736, about 40% were found in prior Florida law, while roughly 60% were based on the Uniform Trust Code, a non-binding, model legal code utilized to form the basis for various state laws throughout the country.  Although comprehensive in scope, Chapter 736 does not purport to address […]

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Florida Trust Termination

Written by on Aug 12, 2014| Posted in: Trust Litigation

People create trusts for a variety of reasons.  Some create them for creditor protection.  Others create them because they are concerned about providing the beneficiaries with large sums of money all at once.  Although these reasons may be valid and appropriate at the time that the trust is created, what happens if that purpose is no longer in existence?  What if there is a substantial change of circumstances that causes the trust to be inconsistent with the settlor’s purposes (i.e. to benefit the beneficiaries)? Fla. Stat. 736.04113 states, in relevant part, as follows: Upon application of a trustee of a trust or any qualified beneficiary, a court at any time may modify the terms of a trust that is not then revocable in the manner provided in subsection (2) if: The purposes of the trust have been fulfilled or have become illegal, impossible, wasteful, or impractical to fulfill; Because of […]

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How Long Does a Beneficiary Have to Challenge the Actions (or Inaction) of a Trustee?

Written by on Feb 10, 2014| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Typically, a trustee serves its accounting on beneficiaries which discloses all matters involving the trusts.  Under normal circumstances, a beneficiary then has four years from receipt of the accounting to bring an action for breach of fiduciary duty.  If an accounting is not provided to the beneficiaries, or when the accounting falls short of properly informing a beneficiary of what is happening with the trust assets, then the Statute of Limitations never begins to run.  If a beneficiary has actual knowledge of the matter not adequately disclosed in the accounting, and it can be proven by clear and convincing evidence that the beneficiary had actual knowledge, or if there has been a repudiation of the Trust by the Trustee and the beneficiary has actual or constructive knowledge of the repudiation, then the four-year statute of limitations will bar that claim, Fla. Stat. §736.1008(3)(a).  The fact that a Trustee has not […]

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Renunciation Rule

Written by on Sep 6, 2013| Posted in: Trust Litigation

What is the “renunciation rule?” Clients are often surprised to learn that if they want to challenge a trust document, they will – with limited exceptions – be required to return to the trust any distribution they have received under the challenged document while the litigation is pending.  This is called the “renunciation rule.”  The Second District Court of Appeals recently released an opinion that discussed at great length the origins and reasons for the renunciation rule.  See Fintak v. Fintak, 38 Fla.L.Weekly D1815 (August 30, 2013).  The renunciation rule originated in English ecclesiastical courts and originally provided that a beneficiary who received a bequest from a will must return the bequest before being permitted to contest the will.  Hamblett v. Hamblett, 6 N.H. 333 (1833).   The American courts interpreted that rule to mean that a beneficiary who receives and keeps a gift under a will or other instrument is estopped […]

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