Florida Breach of Fiduciary Duty Attorneys
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During the probate process, personal representatives of estates, guardians, and trustees are all considered fiduciaries. Individuals serving in these roles must act within the highest legal and ethical standards or they can be exposed to personal financial liability in breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits. According to Florida litigation law, a fiduciary duty exists whenever a person places confidence or trust in another person regarding a particular transaction or in financial affairs.
A breach of fiduciary duty occurs under the following conditions:
- A fiduciary relationship is established
- A breach of that duty is shown
- That breach of duty is the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damage/harm
Breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits can proceed in Florida courts as long as the plaintiff can show that one party has accepted the trust and assumed the duty to protect a weaker party (Quinn v. Phipps, 93 Fla. 805, 113 So. 419, 420-421).
Common Examples of Breaches of Fiduciary Duty in Probate Litigation
If you are an heir, beneficiary, or ward, then you should be concerned about the possibility that there has been a breach of the fiduciary duty if the following occurs:
- You suspect the trustee, guardian, or personal representative is self-dealing. Common examples include selling or renting property to friends or family members at a bargain rate or taking assets like cars, computers, and boats for personal use.
- You think the trustee, guardian, or personal representative is paying themselves too much. While each of these fiduciaries is legally allowed to receive payment for their efforts, as well as reimbursement for their legitimate expenses, these amounts should be reasonable. Excessive compensation is a breach of fiduciary duty.
- You believe that the trustee, guardian, or personal representative is making poor or improper investment decisions.
- You fear that the trustee, guardian, or personal representative might be intentionally pilfering or stealing assets.
Defending Against Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims
The primary defense in any breach of fiduciary duty case is to prove the fiduciary’s actions are within the bounds of the foundational documents (will, trust, etc.) and Florida law. For example, while beneficiaries might argue that a trustee, guardian, or personal representative made “improper investments,” a judge might deem these investments prudent and risk-averse.
However, there are other defenses available to fiduciaries that go outside the substance of the factual breach claim itself. These include:
- Equitable Defense of Laches: Tardiness in asserting the claim as an equitable defense.
- Statute of limitations: The case is time-barred by law.
- Situational-Specific Defenses: This includes exculpatory clauses and self-executing accounting release provisions.
Self-executing accounting release provisions are found in many trusts. Here, the language of the trust itself excuses any bad acts of the fiduciary/trustee if after a set accounting period no beneficiary has objected. Similarly, exculpatory clauses are provisions setting limitations on the liability of the fiduciary’s unintentional mistakes or errors in judgment (they cannot cover intentional bad acts).
Request a Complimentary Consultation with a Breach of Fiduciary Duty Lawyer
Do you have questions regarding a potential breach of fiduciary duty or your rights as an heir or beneficiary? If so, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Adrian Philip Thomas, P.A. so we can review your circumstances and devise a strong legal strategy that is tailored to your unique case goals.
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