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TRUSTEE CLIENTS WIN ATTORNEYS FEES: attorneys fees in Florida trust action granted to trustees for service to trust

Uncategorized Dec 18, 2013

Two trustee clients of the Pankauski Law Firm PLLC recently won an evidentiary hearing on a trustees’ motion for attorneys fees in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Two trustees, one a corporate entity, and one an individual Florida trustee, were involved in a disagreement regarding the interpretation of a Florida trust document. The disagreement was between a third cotrustee, and individual Florida trustee, who thought the Florida trust said one thing while the two other co-trustees thought the Florida trust said something else. This trust litigation in Palm Beach was what probate litigators refer to as a “trust construction action”, where the Palm Beach County trust court, or the Palm Beach County probate court, was being asked to construe, or interpret, what the Florida trust document said.

Because the two co-trustees won at trial, under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, and under the Florida Probate Rules, they filed a motion for attorneys fees and costs.

In Florida trust litigation, the prevailing party, or the parties that win the lawsuit, typically file a motion for attorneys fees after winning at the trust trial. That’s what occurred in this case in the Palm Beach trust case. The two Florida co-trustees were asking the Palm Beach County probate court to instruct everyone where the attorneys fees of the two cotrustees should be paid from. The two cotrustees won at the hearing on the motion for attorneys fees.

The Palm Beach County trust court judge agreed with the victorious two cotrustees, and the law firm, that the attorneys fees incurred by the law firm and the two cotrustees were reasonable. The court issued a four-page order on the motion for attorneys fees, and granted the relief sought. Namely, that the firm’s attorneys fees, and the costs incurred with the trust litigation, should be paid for by the trust assets. The Palm Beach County probate court also found that the hourly rates of the lawyers involved were reasonable, and within the standards charged by other probate lawyers in Palm Beach County Florida.

In Florida, particularly Palm Beach County, Florida, and Broward County, Florida, attorneys fees motions in the probate setting, guardianships, trusts, and estates, have become almost a subspecialty. A trustee, or a beneficiary, who provides a benefit to the trust, may be awarded attorneys fees and costs. In addition, if a beneficiary, or a trustee, loses a trust lawsuit, a Florida probate court has the authority to make that losing party pay the other side’s attorney’s fees out of his or her own pocket. In addition, the Florida trust court has the legal authority to award attorneys fees and costs from the losing beneficiary’s share of the Florida trust. What does all this mean?

What this means is that in Palm Beach County, Florida, someone who was involved in trust litigation must carefully weigh the likelihood of success, of winning the trust lawsuit– or losing, and paying attorneys fees out of your own pocket. In addition, whoever is involved in trust litigation in Palm Beach County should consider whether they will lose, and if they do lose the trust lawsuit, whether they are going to have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees and costs. Attorneys fees in trust litigation, in trust matters in Florida, are often a very important element of winning, losing, and deciding whether you want to mediate the dispute, or settle the dispute. Trust disputes are increasingly common in Florida, and particularly in South Florida, such as in Palm Beach County and Broward County, and Miami-Dade County.

Hearings on attorneys fees in trust lawsuits, in trust administration, and in Florida trust litigation, are important hearings which require preparation, evidence, testimony, and an expert opinion. Beneficiaries of Florida trusts, trust lawyers and probate litigation lawyers, should be very familiar with the standards and rules, including the Florida Probate Rules, for seeking attorneys fees and costs before a Florida trust court.