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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Trust Litigation

Reformation of Florida Trusts

Written by on Jul 25, 2011| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Section 736.0415 of the Florida Trust Code expressly provides that unambiguous provisions of a trust may be reformed where clear and convincing evidence shows that the language of the trust does not reflect the settlor’s intent, even where the evidence regarding the settlor’s intent is contrary to the trust itself: Upon application of a settlor or any interested person, the court may reform the terms of a trust, even if unambiguous, to conform the terms to the settlor’s intent if it is proved by clear and convincing evidence that both the accomplishment of the settlor’s intent and the terms of the trust were affected by a mistake of fact or law, whether in expression or inducement. In determining the settlor’s original intent, the court may consider evidence relevant to the settlor’s intent even though the evidence contradicts an apparent plain meaning of the trust instrument. See § 736.0415, Fla. Stat. […]

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Trustee Removal Action

Written by on Jun 6, 2011| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Can I fire my trustee? We receive numerous inquiries from clients asking, “How can I fire my Trustee?”  In Florida, “firing a Trustee” is called a trustee removal action, through which an interested party may seek to remove a trustee of a trust, sometimes for reasons other times for no cause.  Florida Trust law contains specific statutes which address the removal of trustees. According to Florida Statute §736.0706, removal of a trustee may be sought by the settlor, a co-trustee, or any beneficiary. In addition, a court may remove a trustee on its own. Grounds for removal include a serious breach of trust, lack of cooperation among co-trustees, and unfitness, unwillingness, or persistent failure to effectively administer the trust. Any action to remove a trustee on these grounds would be considered a removal “for cause.” Florida Statute §736.0706, also permits the removal of a trustee without cause at the request […]

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Trustee’s Fee

Written by on Mar 24, 2011| Posted in: General

What Is a Reasonable Trustee’s Fee?  Under the Florida Trust Code, “A Trustee is entitled to compensation that is reasonable under the circumstances.”  F.S. §736.0708(1).  Unfortunately, the statutes are devoid of any reference to what amounts to “reasonable” compensation or how to determine whether fees sought by a trustee are per se reasonable. Generally, compensation of a Trustee may be established in the Trust instrument or by separate agreement with the Trustee.  In the absence of either, the circuit court has jurisdiction to review and determine a trustee’s fees.  F.S. §736.0201(4)(c), (4)(g).  Even in certain situations in which the trust does specify the trustee’s compensation, the court may adjust that compensation if the trustee’s duties are substantially different from those contemplated when the trust was created or if the compensation specified is unreasonably low or high.  F.S. §736.0708(2).  As a result, whether or not the trust instrument provides for the […]

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An injunction by any other name…

Written by on Nov 2, 2010| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Does the Florida Trust Code allow for freezing of trust assets without the burden of proving the traditional elements for an injunction? In short the answer is “sort of.”  Historically, if you want an injunction, the moving party must prove: She will suffer irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law unless injunctive relief is granted; She has a clear legal right to request injunctive relief; and The entry of this injunctive relief will not disserve the public interest.     “No adequate remedy at law” is the insurmountable obstacle to injunctive relief because many court rules that if you can get a money judgment (whether or not it is  collectable),then there is an adequate remedy at law therefore you are not entitled to an injunction.  Think of injunctions as the appropriate remedy for the hippie who doesn’t want the developer to cut down a 500 year old […]

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Florida Trustee’s Duty to Remainderman Beneficiary

Written by on Oct 20, 2010| Posted in: Trust Litigation

If a person is serving as a trustee of a discretionary trust (trustee has the right and authority to distribute income and principal) then he has complete authority over trust distributions and according to the trust document answers to no one.  However, what if the trustee of the trust exercises his  authority to distribute the entire trust corpus to the current beneficiary or worse distribute all of the trust assets to himself?  Can this be stopped and can the trustee really clean out all of the cash. If the trustee takes this action, there arises a question as to what the trustee’s fiduciary duty is to the other beneficiaries of the trust.  The case of  Mesler v. Holly, 318 So. 2d 330 (Fla. 2d DCA 1975) provides, “even unlimited power of invasion is subject to implied limitations to protect remaindermen.”

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When Good Trustees Go Bad

Written by on Oct 4, 2010| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures “O mischief, thou art swift to enter in the thoughts of desperate men!”~William Shakespeare During the recent economic crisis, our office has seen an increase in trust litigation matters involving trustees failing to fulfill their fiduciary obligations by participating in self-dealing, receiving unreasonable compensation and trustee fees and taking personal loans against the Trust expecting to pay it back before any of the beneficiaries become aware. These cases generally do not involve strangers or neutral, independent, or professional trustees breaching their duties to the Trusts, but quite often involve siblings breaching their duties to siblings, step-parents failing their step-children, long-time family attorneys or friends stealing from their clients’ children. What is disturbing is these are the same people we tend to trust and have shown no signs of dishonesty or disloyalty in the past. One can debate the reasons behind this sudden increase in […]

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Absolute Discretion?

Written by on Sep 21, 2010| Posted in: Trust Litigation

“I’ve got the power!” Does absolute discretion mean trustees can exercise their discretion absolutely? The short answer is “no.”   The longer answer requires the starting point to be – what does the trust say?  The settlor is the person who makes the trust and his or her intent is the polestar by which a trust should be interpreted and construed.  So if the trust grants the trustee the absolute discretion to distribute money from the trust then isn’t the trust stating that the trustee can do no wrong when deciding what amount to distribute?  Well, not really.  A provision seemingly allowing the trustee to distribute whatever he or she wants to must be balanced with the rest of the document. In other words, a trustee cannot pluck a sentence or two out of a forty page document and rely upon it as his or her absolute authority to distribute all the trust money […]

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Breach of Trust

Written by on Sep 21, 2010| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Many people establish trusts through their Last Will and Testament (“testamentary trusts”).  Often establishing trusts is an effective way of ensuring one’s heirs are provided with income while providing checks and balances on the investing and distribution of principal.  At the recent deposition of a financial advisor in a trust dispute, there was testimony that a typical inheritance is usually squandered within eighteen (18) months.

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Convenience Account or Inter Vivos Gift?

Written by on Aug 15, 2010| Posted in: General

A LESSON IN TRUST… We often come across cases in which a Will or a Trust leaves assets equally to all of the Decedent’s children. However, at the time of death, most of the Decedent’s assets are held in joint accounts with only one of the children named as a joint owner, thereby entitling only one child to the entire account as the remaining joint owner and avoiding the equal distribution that the parent planned through his or her Will and/or Trust. Unfortunately, the account title tends to control, despite the understanding that the child receiving the account as joint owner had been placed on the account for convenience purposes only to help mom or dad pay bills, as needed; not to receive all of the assets upon their death. Parents believe their children would never cut out their siblings but this is sadly not always the case.

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Trustee Compensation

Written by on Jun 30, 2010| Posted in: Trust Litigation

COMPENSATION OF TRUSTEES WHO ARE ALSO BENEFICIARIES In a recent Florida Second DCA case, Burgess v. Prince, 25 So.3d 705 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2010), the Court determined that a Trustee of a family trust, who was also a Trust beneficiary, was entitled to compensation for her management of Trust assets, despite the fact that the trust instrument provided that a beneficiary of the Trust could not receive compensation for serving as Trustee.  The trial court removed the Trustee and ordered that she may not be compensated for managing a business, which was a trust asset, and all compensation she received would be charged against her distributive share of the Trust.  See Id.  On appeal, the Appellate Court upheld the removal without discussion but reversed a part of the final judgment which ruled the Trustee could not be compensated for managing the business which was a trust asset.  Although the trust […]

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