There are several reasons why beneficiaries, heirs, and family members disagree with how a trust is administered. One of the most critical rights beneficiaries have is the ability to challenge the trustee’s actions in court proceedings or through estate litigation.
Beneficiary Rights Under the Florida Trust Code
In legal matters, there’s a difference between an heir and a beneficiary. An heir is a relative or next of kin who stands to inherit after a family member passes away without a will. A beneficiary is a named party in a legal document (such as a will or trust) who has a right to receive a deceased person’s property. There are several tiers of beneficiaries to a trust, the most senior being a qualified beneficiary.
Under the Florida Trust Code, beneficiaries of a trust have the right to expect certain actions and behaviors of the trustee, including:
- Proper administration of the trust according to the document instructions and Florida law. The trust document should clearly state the testator’s intentions and which state’s laws apply to the provisions. If there’s no mention of the governing location, courts may determine jurisdiction based on where the trust was created or where the testator lived at the time of its creation.
- Acting solely for the interests of the beneficiaries. The trustee must place the interests of the trust beneficiaries above all others, including their own.
- Performing all duties in good faith. Everything a trustee does in administering a trust should be done to the best of their ability and without self-dealing and conflicts of interest.
- Impartiality. Florida law requires trustees to treat all beneficiaries the same, showing no preference or applying different standards among beneficiaries.
- Protection and defense of the trust. Trustees should take steps to defend claims made against trust property or enforce claims of the trust, such as using trust funds to secure an asset for the trust or filing lawsuits against someone to defend the trust in court. It also includes dealing with former trustees and collecting trust property and records from prior trustees.
- Prudent use and investment of trust assets. There are strict rules for the holding, investing, and spending of trust assets. Trust property such as cash, stocks, bonds, and real estate, should be held and titled in the name of the trust. There must be no commingling of the trust property with the trustee’s own. Any expenses incurred by the trustee should be limited, reasonable, and documented. You also have a right to object to any professionals paid using trust money, such as brokers, accountants, realtors, or other third parties employed by the trust.
- Timely communication and distribution. Trustees should not hold distributions or inheritances for any longer or any reason than legally necessary. All trust distributions should be made as soon as outstanding issues are resolved. If a beneficiary makes a request regarding the trust, the trustee should respond with a decision and a clear reason for the decision in a reasonable period.
- Providing relevant information about the trust. Florida law requires trustees to keep qualified beneficiaries reasonably informed of the trust and its administration. This includes providing a complete copy of the trust document (including amendments) and an annual accounting showing all trust gains, losses, and distributions.
If You Suspect Mishandling of a Trust, We Can Help
A trustee is considered a trusted agent, or fiduciary, to the heirs. This title carries legal responsibilities and consequences, including being held personally liable for breach of duty. If your trustee has engaged in self-dealing or has conflicts of interest, these transactions could be voided, and your trustee may be removed.
At DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A., we have helped clients across Florida with various estate litigation matters. To learn more about your case, please call us at (727) 397-5571 or use our quick contact form so we can discuss all of your options under the law.