Trust and Estate Litigation
Trust and estate litigation cases are generally emotionally charged disputes which can involve substantial sums of money that involve family members, trustees and/or financial advisors. Our lawyers appreciate the need for sophisticated legal advice coupled with the capacity to advise clients during difficult legal and emotional times. In many instances, trust and estate litigation involves the legal interpretation of trusts and wills’ language and whether the trusts and wills are enforceable. Silver Law Group concentrates on trust and estate litigation cases that involve fiduciary duties owed by trustees and executors, to beneficiaries and heirs that are many times delegated to professional financial advisors. In particular, we represent investor interests when assets earmarked for their benefit have been mismanaged by fiduciaries which resulted in losses.
Many times, our lawyers are sought out by estate planning lawyers, who might have prepared the trusts and wills, to assist in the assessment and prosecution of claims against financial professionals who have mismanaged estate assets. Trust and estate litigation cases for which we have been retained involved various claims including, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentation and omission of material facts, elder financial fraud, unsuitable investment advice, and tortious interference with an expected inheritance.Fiduciary Duties
Trusts, wills and powers of attorney are estate planning documents which govern the management and disposition of assets for the benefit of a grantor, beneficiary or incapacitated individual for whose benefit the legal document has been created. The trustees and executors of these legal documents who are empowered and entrusted to execute the instructions are known as fiduciaries. Fiduciaries owe some of the highest duties under the law, and we seek to enforce those duties for our clients. A trustee or executor has an obligation, known as fiduciary duty, to protect grantor and beneficiary rights. A trustee must place their interests above the interests of everyone else, even his/her own. When a trustee fails to do this, a beneficiary can file a claim for breach of fiduciary duty.
Although trustees and executors are bound by some duties that differ, there are some that are common and important. Some of the most important duties include:
- Duty of loyalty (A fiduciary must avoid conflicts of interest and refrain from self-dealing);
- uty to provide information (accounting, inventory, asset custody, fiduciary fees, and asset distributions); and
- Duty to monitor and manage assets according to prudent man and securities industry standards.
Beneficiaries are characterized as possessing income or remainder interests. Grantor and beneficiaries of trusts have rights which include knowledge of general and some specific terms of the trust. Generally, the right to information includes the right to receive information concerning:
- Financial distributions;
- Relevant trust information;
- Trust accounting; and
- Trust valuations.
The failure of a trustee which results in a breach of a fiduciary duty can occur in any number of ways, including:
- Failure to make distributions;
- Conflict of interests;
- Taking money from the trust;
- Failure to administer the trust;
- Acting in self-interest; and
- Abuse of discretion regarding discretionary distributions.
Our aging population has led to increased financial exploitation of the elderly, known as elder financial fraud. Our lawyers have significant experience litigating cases involving such financial exploitation and have been able to provide our clients many successful results in those matters. Elderly individuals faced with uncertainties related to health and mortality can utilize estate planning documents to provide for the management and distribution of their assets when they become incapacitated. The selection of a trustee and the delegation of tasks for the management of their assets is a tenuous process for many individuals. The duties owed by the designated fiduciaries to the grantor and beneficiaries are absolute; however, the successful execution of the estate plan can be undermined by willful and negligent acts by those who are considered trusted, including:
- Abuse of confidential relationships;
- Fraud and deception;
- Exertion of undue influence;
- Duress or coercion;
- Fraud; and
- Professional negligence.
Grantors and beneficiaries rely upon the prudent investor rule, securities industry rules and civil courts designed to protect investors. When the legal protections given to grantors and beneficiaries are violated, our legal team can help you obtain damages from the trustee, executor or delegated financial advisor who violated them.
Trustees and delegated financial advisors are required to follow the prudent investor rule and fiduciary principles that govern investment advice to avoid investment losses. These rules are designed to protect trusts and their beneficiaries from exposure to unsuitable investment risk. As a part of these rules, fiduciary responsibilities designed to protect grantors and beneficiary interests must be able to demonstrate adherence to prudent man rules and securities industry standards of care that address:
- Investment portfolio management;
- Investment monitoring and reporting;
- Trust income and distributions;
- Asset allocation; and
- Risk exposure.
In the event of investment losses, trustees and delegated financial professionals must be able to prove that they complied with the fiduciary duties related to the handling of investment accounts. The failure to comply with these rules and regulations can result in a meritorious claim for damages.
We appreciate the challenges of assisting clients located in the northeastern United States who have elderly family members living in Florida who might have been taken advantage of financially by someone they thought they could trust in protecting their estate. Silver Law Group is a nationally recognized securities arbitration law firm with Martindale Hubbell “AV” Preeminent Peer Review™ rated lawyers committed to the advocacy of investor rights.