Florida Inheritance Lawsuits and Personal Financials
Are you involved in inheritance litigation? Are you the trustee of a Florida trust? Is a beneficiary of a Florida estate suing you? Can a beneficiary request personal financial records from a Florida trustee? When can the opposing party request personal financial records from me? Do I have to disclose my personal tax returns and bank records in my current probate lawsuit?
Florida Trusts and Relevant Information
West Palm Beach probate lawyers know that beneficiaries of a Florida trust have a right, under Florida probate and trust law, to “relevant information.”For one, beneficiaries have a right to receive an annual accounting from the trustee.
In Florida, trustees actually have a duty to provide an annual accounting. Florida Statute 736.0813 (d) says that “a trustee of an irrevocable trust shall provide a trust accounting, as set forth in s. 736.08135, from the date of the last accounting or, if none, from the date on which the trustee became accountable, to each qualified beneficiary at least annually and on termination of the trust or on change of the trustee.”
If you are the beneficiary of a trust in Florida, and your trustee is not providing you with requested relevant information or accountings, you should consider consulting with an experienced West Palm Beach inheritance attorney. Unfortunately, as trust and estates litigators, we know that there are “bad” trustees out there. Sometimes, suing the trustee is necessary to get the answers and information you are entitled to as a beneficiary.
Florida Trustees and Discovery
Trustees in Florida must take their role seriously. Trustees have many duties to beneficiaries. For example, in addition to filing a yearly accounting, Florida trustees must administer the trust in good faith, and in accordance with the trust’s purposes and the Florida Trust Code. Also, trustees have a duty of loyalty which prevents them from self dealing for his or her own advantage. Trustees must keep records and refrain from commingling trust funds with personal funds. There are many more duties that a person should be well aware of before becoming a trustee.
If you are a Palm Beach trustee, and the beneficiaries of the trust feel you are hiding something or doing a bad job, you may find yourself in the middle of trust litigation. A beneficiary could sue you for conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment etc.
You should know that, during the course of discovery, records and documents will most likely be requested from you. In some circumstances, beneficiaries will ask to see your personal financial records, which may even include your personal tax returns.
Recent Palm Beach Trust Case
A January 22, 2020 Second DCA opinion, Hett v. Barron-Lunde, is a good example of a Florida trust case where a beneficiary subpoenas the trustee for personal financial records. The trustee objected to the subpoena. However, the trial court found that the personal financial records were relevant to the claims in the complaint. These claims included theft and breach of fiduciary duty. The trustee appealed.
The Second DCA addressed the discoverability of the requested personal financial documents. It is clear from the law that a trial court has broad discretion in overseeing discovery, and protecting the parties that come before it. However, there are limits to the discretion.
Specifically in a prejudgment case like this one, ” the relevancy of the records must be framed by the operative complaint allegations.” After taking into account the trustee’s right to privacy, the appellate court could not say that ” the discovery sought is irrelevant and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” The financial records requested were relevant to the issues in the complaint and ,therefore, the appellate court agreed with the trial court.
If you are the trustee of a Florida trust, or a beneficiary of a Palm Beach estate, you may wish to interview a Florida probate attorney. For a free consultation with an attorney at Pankauski Hauser Lazarus, call (561)514-0900 Ext.101.