Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Breach of fiduciary duty is one of the most common probate litigation lawsuits filed in Florida, and it’s brought on behalf of beneficiaries of estates and trusts against the estate executor, personal representative or trustee.

To understand what this is – and why it’s an important claim to pursue – we must first explain what fiduciary duty is relative to probate litigation.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale probate litigation attorneys know those who are named as trustees, executors of estates or personal representatives are invested with a great deal of trust and responsibility. They are required to act both legally and ethically. F.S. 733.609 outlines what it means to commit an improper exercise of these powers, and therefore a breach of fiduciary duty.

What is a Fiduciary Duty?

In the simplest terms, fiduciary duty is an obligation to act in the best interests of another party.

Although there are many types of fiduciary duties (corporate, partnership, lenders, real estate agents, stock brokers, etc.), our probate litigation attorneys are primarily concerned with:

  • Fiduciary duties of trustees;
  • Fiduciary duties of estate representatives.

When it comes to trusts, the duty of the trustee is to administer the trust solely in the interest of the beneficiary. That includes responsibilities to:

  • Provide full disclosure of material facts when dealing with the account;
  • Keep and render clear and accurate accounts of the administration of the trust;
  • Take reasonable steps to take, keep control of or preserve the trust’s property.

Similarly, estate representatives – generally appointed by the probate court – have a fiduciary duty to the hers of the estate, pursuant to which the representative must act fairly and maintain full disclosure. Further, the representative has a responsibility to the estate itself – for the benefit of the heirs and also the creditors.

What is a Breach of Fiduciary Duty?

Failure of a trustee to uphold these responsibilities and act in the best interest of the beneficiary is considered a breach of fiduciary duty. A Fort Lauderdale lawyer can help you take action when a duty is breached.

As The American Bar Association points out, there are hundreds of ways in which fiduciaries could breach duties correlative to their special status. Some of those most common to trusts and estates in probate litigation are:

  • Misappropriation of funds or property;
  • Misrepresentation or omission regarding a statement of fact;
  • Neglect, imprudence or want of skill (i.e., failure to administer the trust properly, etc.);
  • Failure to disclose;
  • Breach of an assumed duty to provide accurate information;
  • Failure to act in another’s best interest.

Pursuing a claim for fiduciary duty in Florida can be a complex matter, but in general one must show:

  • Fiduciary relationship existed;
  • Breach of that duty is shown;
  • Breach of duty was proximate cause to plaintiff’s damages.

In trust and estate cases, damages usually involve the loss of assets or inheritance. It’s important to note that failing to live up to one’s fiduciary duty alone isn’t necessarily grounds for a claim. One must also show damages, which means some type of financial loss was incurred as a result of that breached duty.

Breach of fiduciary duty is considered a type of civil tort, though it is possible in some circumstances that criminal charges could be filed (i.e., if theft was involved).

The statute of limitations on breach of fiduciary claims is four years.

Who Can Bring a Claim for Breach of Fiduciary Duty?

Those who would have grounds to assert a claim for breach of fiduciary damages in probate litigation in Fort Lauderdale or the surrounding areas would include:

  • Heirs
  • Beneficiaries
  • Wards
  • Creditors

When the person who was wronged has died, that can mean the death of the case. However, in some cases, the estate may have the standing to bring the claim for breach of fiduciary duty.

Many of these cases center on assertions of self-dealing in some way. That could mean, for instance, selling certain property to family or friends at an otherwise unheard-of deal or pilfering certain assets for themselves.

Another common claim for breach of fiduciary duty is excessive compensation. This is when it is alleged the guardian, personal representative or trustee is compensating themselves too much for their services. Although these individuals may be entitled to compensation, the amount of that compensation must be within reason.

Claims have also been made in scenarios where the guardian, personal representative, power of attorney or trustee is suspected of making unsound or improper investment choices, which will adversely impact the estate.

If you believe you have grounds to assert a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, it’s best to first consult with an experienced probate litigation attorney.

Contact the Fort Lauderdale Lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm at (888) 267-2728 or by email. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties.

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