In Florida, PersanteZuroweste is well known in the field of trust litigation, and we handle all types of claims involving trust disputes and the actions of trustees. We litigate disputes on behalf of beneficiaries, trustees, and other interested parties.
Trusts are complicated instruments that are valuable in estate planning. Although some trusts are considered will substitutes, they differ from wills in several aspects. For instance, a trust may contain provisions for the financial management of a settlor’s assets. Accordingly, while problems with a will necessarily arise after death, problems with a trust impact the settlor while he or she is alive. Unfortunately, people sometimes abuse the fact that, unlike a probate administration, trust administration is not monitored by a court.
The concept of a trust originated in medieval England. Friars were not allowed to own property, so gifts were made to responsible people to hold property for the “use” of the friars. This system of “uses” is what has transformed into what we now know as trusts.
What is a trust?
A trust is a legal entity created under the law by a property owner to hold property for the benefit of another. Trusts have an explicit, stated purpose for existing. Trusts can own, buy, and sell all types of property. In some cases, a trust can exist for any duration of time or for an unlimited period of time.The common characteristic of all trusts is the holding of property, real or personal, for the benefit of another. Sometimes, property is formally transferred by its owner into the trust; other times, a property owner will declare he is holding certain property in trust for another. In either scenario, the property owner relinquishes his individual ownership rights to the trust.
There are several types of trusts. In Florida, the person who creates a trust is called the “settlor” or “grantor.” If a settlor transfers property into the trust during his/her lifetime, the trust is an “inter vivos trust.” If settlor desires to transfer property into the trust pursuant to the settlor’s will, the trust is a “testamentary trust.”
A trust may also be revocable, which means that the settlor can modify or terminate the trust during his/her lifetime. A revocable trust is most commonly used to avoid probate because assets are transferred to the trust during the settlor’s lifetime. Unlike a revocable trust, an “irrevocable trust” generally cannot be terminated once created.
Trusts are controlled and administered by a person so nominated in the trust instrument called a trustee. The trustee is a "fiduciary" to the beneficiaries of the trust, and the law imposes on trustees the highest duty of care in administering their duties. All trustees must act with the “punctilio of honor,” in the famous words of Justice Benjamin Cardozo in the United States Supreme Court opinion, Meinhard v. Salmon.
In general, a trustee will:
If a trustee fails to act with the required honor and care, the trustee may become personally liable under the law. Beneficiaries can bring suit against the trustee for breach of fiduciary duty, which can involve not only the trustee's intentional acts of wrongdoing, but also any unintentional acts of negligence.
Why is the law governing trustees so strict? Because the trustee holds actual legal title to the trust assets and must administer, or oversee, these assets according to the express terms and provisions of the actual trust documents. The beneficiaries are those entitled to receive benefits from the trust; however, they do not hold legal title to the trust assets themselves. The trustee is the property owner for the life of the trust. The law is strict in recognition of the temptations that are inherent in this scenario.
PersanteZuroweste handles Trust and Trustee litigation matters. If you believe that you may need legal assistance regarding a Florida trust litigation matter, please contact us at (727) 796-7666.
PersanteZuroweste has established a reputation as prominent trial lawyers serving clients throughout Florida. Our office is conveniently located to the Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Tampa Bay communities.