Suing a Trustee: Individually and as Trustee of a Florida Trust
Are you involved in a lawsuit against a Florida trustee? Do you wish to sue a Florida trustee as trustee of your dad’s trust? When should you sue a Florida trustee individually ? When should you sue a trustee both individually and as trustee of a trust in Florida? Why is it important to acknowledge that suing a person who happens to be serving as a trustee is different than suing that person in his or her capacity as trustee?
Florida Trustee Duties
Under the Florida Trust Code, a trustee has the following duties:
- Duty to Administer the Trust in good faith and accordance with its purposes and the Florida trust code.
- Duty of Loyalty. A trustee cannot engage in self dealing for its own advantage of profit, it must be loyal to the trust and beneficiaries. The trustee violates the duty of loyalty any time a transaction is entered for the trustee’s own advantage or benefit. These are general voidable by the court.
- Duty of Prudence. The trustee must administer the trust as a prudent person would after considering the purpose of the trust, its terms, what the circumstances of the trust and market are etc. The trustee also cannot incur unreasonable expenses.
- Duty of Special Skills means that a trustee with special skills will be held responsible to utilize those skills. For example, if a person serves as a trustee who is a lawyer or accountant, that person will be held to a hire standard.
- Duty to control, collect and protect the trust property, and assets.
- Duty of Impartiality. If a trust has more than one beneficiary, the trustee must act impartially in administering the trust assets, giving dual consideration to the beneficiaries respective interests.
- Duty to keep records. A Florida trustee must keep good records and trust funds separate from the trustee’s personal funds.
- Duty to Account. The trustee must keep the trust accounted for using reasonable accounting measures. Florida law requires an accounting disclosure.
- Duty to Distribute. A trustee must distribute funds per the terms of the trust.
- Duties Regarding Tax. It is the trustee’s duty to file all necessary tax returns.
To learn more about the duties of Florida trustees, check out the Florida Trust Code by clicking here.
Lawsuits Against a Florida Trustee
What can you do if a Florida trustee does not properly carry out his or her duties as trustee? Can you remove a trustee in Florida? Can you, as a beneficiary of the trust, sue to get an accounting and financial records if the trustee has not disclosed them to you?
Frequently, the Florida trial lawyers at Pankauski Hauser Lazarus are hired to represent beneficiaries in trust lawsuits. Beneficiaries usually hire trust lawyers to assist them in suing a bad trustee.
Sometimes, the beneficiaries wish to remove the trustee completely. Other times, beneficiaries sue for answers or information. For example, often, trustees fail to provide required accountings to beneficiaries. Therefore, beneficiaries sue to find out exactly what is in the Florida trust that they inherit from.
Suing the Trustee Individually and as Trustee of a Florida Trust
Hett v. Barron-Lunde , a January 22,2020 Second DCA opinion, is a good example of a Florida trust case where the beneficiary of a trust sues the Florida trustee for information. Here, the beneficiary believed that the trustee had used the Florida trust to steal $200,000.
The beneficiary wanted to see any and all documents related to the trust. The trial court issued the subpoenas for the documents but the trustee appealed
In this particular Florida trust lawsuit, the beneficiary only named the trustee individually, not the trust or the trustee in her capacity as trustee. Therefore, one of the arguments that the trustee made was that, because the beneficiary only sued her individually and did not sue the trust, the beneficiary had no right to issue the subpoenas.
The Second DCA agreed. Specifically, the appellate court said that ” because the relevancy of the Trust’s financial records is not apparent from the face of the complaint, the trial court departed from the essential requirements of the law by compelling the disclosure of these records without holding an evidentiary hearing to determine relevancy. “
If you are involved in a West Palm Beach or Miami trust lawsuit, or if you want to sue a Florida trustee, consider interviewing an experienced trust litigator. For a free consultation regarding your Florida trust case, call (561)514-0900 ext. 101.