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Florida Trust Accountings–recent case sheds light on TRUST APPEALS

In the News • May 9, 2021

An April 29, 2021 appellate opinion sheds light on Florida Trust Accountings and final orders. Most Florida trustees know that you can give a six month “limitation notice” to a beneficiary. Most beneficiaries don’t really understand that you may only have 6 months to sue for breach of trust. This recent case discusses the “finality” of an order on a Florida Trust Accounting. That final order can’t be changed except under three very unique scenarios. Keep reading to learn more about trust appeals. (For a free legal video on trust accountings in the State of Florida, CLICK HERE.)

Florida Trust Accountings. Can you appeal an order or must you file a separate lawsuit?

Florida Trust Law on Beneficiary Rights — but watch the clock !

First and foremost, trust beneficiaries have a lot of rights in Florida. You can read all about those rights under the Florida Trust Code. That’s chapter 736 of Florida Statutes. To read about the obligations and duties of a Florida Trustee, read Trust Code Statutes 736.0801-736.0817. As a beneficiary, you have a right to know who your trustee is and to a complete copy of the trust document. That includes any amendments, restatements or changes. You can also obtain annual trust accountings. A trustee cannot operate or run the trust in secret. There needs to be full disclosure. But, trust beneficiaries can’t wait forever to exercise their rights. Sometimes you have 4 years to sue for a breach of trust. And sometimes only 6 months. If you are involved in a court case, any order from a judge may have to be appealed within 30 days or it becomes “non-appealable.” The point is that you have to watch the clock ! Beneficiaries don’t have forever to exercise your rights. Beneficiaries also have a right to have a prudent trustee. One who is impartial and who avoids self-dealing and conflicts of interest. There is, after all, a duty of loyalty on the part of a Florida trustee.

April 29, 2021 Trust Accounting Case

On April 29, 2021, the 1st District Court of Appeal issued its opinion in the case of Stokes v. Jones. This was a trust appeal. A trust lawsuit had been filed. An accounting had been issued. The trial court issued an order. It did not retain jurisdiction to do anything. That was important. Because while beneficiaries have a right to object to an accounting, no right is unlimited. When an order is issued in a court, you can only disturb it in three ways. First, you can file a trust appeal. Second you could ask the trial judge for a re-hearing. But that is only under limited circumstances. Finally, a final order could be opened up or even set aside within 1 year under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540. But, again, that is under limited circumstances. Knowing how long you have to act on a trust accounting is important. But you also need to know what rights you have if an order is issued. Some orders in probate cases MUST be appealed within 30 days under a not-well-known appellate rule. Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.170. When you have a trust lawsuit, do the rules of civil procedure apply? Or the Florida Probate Rules? Maybe both? Don’t confuse a trust lawsuit with a probate proceeding. They can be closely related. But many times there are trust cases long after the trust creator dies. That’s different than a pour over will that leaves everything to a revocable trust. This recent 1st DCA opinion reminds trust beneficiaries to watch the clock to exercise your rights. You may have less time than you believe.