Here in Florida, smart estate planning requires help from an experienced estate planning attorney to create the legal documents that you’ll need. Irrevocable trusts and revocable trusts are among the most popular estate planning tools.

What are the advantages of irrevocable and revocable trusts in this state? How are trust disputes handled in Florida? When is an estate planning attorney in West Palm Beach needed?

An estate planning attorney can create a trust to avoid probate and to expedite the distribution of assets after your death. Trusts in Florida are also a good way to protect certain assets and to avoid particular taxes.

WHAT BENEFITS DOES A TRUST OFFER?

Smart owners of extensive assets have used trusts successfully to avoid the probate court in Florida and to save beneficiaries money, time, and aggravation.

probate court in palm beach county

However, trusts are not a guaranteed way to avoid courtroom acrimony. Trusts are subject to litigation – meaning that they can be legally contested – in Florida. Trustees, beneficiaries, or others may challenge a trustee’s actions or the trust itself – and lawsuits will emerge.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEAK TO A LAWYER REGARDING A TRUST?

In South Florida, an accomplished estate planning law firm should be contacted when:

  • You begin the estate planning process.
  • A trustee needs help administering a trust.
  • A trust is challenged or contested legally.
  • A trustee breaches his or her fiduciary duties.

HOW ARE THE TERMS “SETTLOR” AND “TRUSTEE” DEFINED?

A trustee and a settlor are two different roles, but one person can perform both functions. A settlor is the person who creates the trust and reserves powers with respect to the trust. A trustee manages the trust until it is terminated.

trustee

In Florida, the document that creates a trust that a settlor uses for asset distribution after he or she has died must be signed and must meet the same legal requirements as a will. The settlor must be of sound mind and free of undue influence when the trust is created.

WHAT CAN TRIGGER LEGAL ACTION REGARDING A TRUST?

There are a number of possible disputes and causes of action arising from revocable and irrevocable trusts. A cause of action may be brought for the following reasons:

  • The trust doesn’t meet Florida’s legal requirements for a trust.
  • The settlor was not of sound mind or mentally capable of making the trust.
  • Undue influence affected the settlor.
  • The trustee violated Florida law when trust assets were distributed.
  • The language of the trust document is confusing, unclear, and vague.
  • The trust should be changed or revoked.

WHEN DOES A TRUSTEE COMMIT A BREACH OF DUTY?

A beneficiary in Florida may take legal action if a trustee breaches his or her fiduciary duty. Trustees have the duty to administer a trust properly and in the best interests of its beneficiaries.

lawsuit over trust

A breach of duty happens when a trustee:

  • does not make proper asset distributions
  • does not make a timely accounting
  • does not administer the trust in the manner specified by the trust
  • does not invest the assets of the trust properly
  • uses trust assets for his or her own advantage
  • pays him or herself excessively for service as a trustee

The Florida Trust Code allows a person who prevails in a trust litigation matter to recover lawyer’s fees and the costs of litigation from the trust estate.

HOW CAN TRUSTEES MAKE THEIR OBLIGATIONS EASIER?

When you are the trustee of a revocable or an irrevocable trust, your task will be easier from the start if you have cordial relationships with the trust beneficiaries – the people who benefit from the trust money. The wisest way to handle the concerns of beneficiaries is to:

  • Contact them early.
  • Explain to them your role.
  • Help them understand how long it takes to administer a trust.
  • Treat beneficiaries’ questions as opportunities to create good will.
  • Do not hide the trust document or the assets.

HOW CAN AN ESTATE PLANNING LAWYER HELP WITH A TRUST DISPUTE?

Here in South Florida, an experienced West Palm Beach estate planning attorney can help you in the prosecution or defense of any claim involving Florida trust law, such as:

  • A claim against a trustee: Your attorney can work to hold a trustee accountable for a breach of trust or for an abuse of power.
  • A claim against a trust itself: If you have been deprived of assets because of undue influence over a decedent, an estate planning attorney with trust litigation experience may be able to help you.
  • Third party lawsuits: A Florida estate planning attorney can defend the estate against claims filed for unsettled debts or for personal injuries.

emotional trust dispute

The disputes that can arise over a trust may be emotionally difficult for a family. If your loved one’s instructions have not been followed, or if a breach of fiduciary duty has occurred in some other way, an estate planning lawyer will help you act and help you resolve the problem.

CAN DISPUTES OVER TRUSTS BE RESOLVED OUT-OF-COURT?

Florida’s Trust Code, which took effect in 2007, provides several options – beyond having a trust declared invalid – for beneficiaries or others considering legal action:

  • Out-of-court settlements: Under the Florida Trust Code, parties may agree to a binding nonjudicial settlement regarding virtually any trust matter. Many lawsuits can be avoided when the parties can reach a private, out-of-court agreement.
  • Trust modification or termination: Trust disputes are often settled by a simple reformation, termination, or modification of the trust. The Florida Trust Code allows for trust modifications that are consistent with the settlor’s intentions.
  • Termination of uneconomic trusts: A court may terminate or modify a trust or may remove or appoint another trustee if the court finds that the value of the trust property is inadequate to justify the continuing expense of administration.
  • Trustee removal: The Florida Trust Code additionally allows the removal of a trustee at the request of all of the beneficiaries. Removal by request does not require evidence of malfeasance but only a showing that removal serves the best interests of the beneficiaries.

WHO SHOULD SPEAK TO AN ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY IN FL (AND WHEN)?

Anyone with questions or concerns regarding estate planning and trust litigation should speak as soon as possible with a skilled West Palm Beach estate planning attorney. Whether you are a settlor, a trustee, or a beneficiary, an estate planning lawyer’s help is your right.