Trust Disputes & Litigation
Oakland Lawyer Representing Your Wishes
While trusts are often established with a goal of minimizing the possibility
of legal disputes, such disputes do nonetheless sometimes occur. As a
trust attorney who has been serving Oakland and the rest of Alameda County
for over 20 years, I have seen this happen all too often. Some reasons
for disputes are briefly discussed below.
This is meant to be a general overview of common areas of trust litigation.
Each case is unique and a qualified trust litigation attorney should be
consulted to determine the merits of any proposed legal action.
Acting as a trustee entails several duties, any of which can be the basis
Administration duties require a trustee to understand the terms of the trust and manage the
assets in accordance with those terms. Subtasks are generated by this
duty, such as having a true and accurate accounting of assets, filing
taxes, collecting and protecting trust property, and others.
The duty to act personally means a trustee shouldn't delegate tasks that require the expertise
they possess. In other words, there is a reason someone is named trustee,
a reason that reflects something about them personally. It may be a skill
or training or familiarity with some included task, like investing. When
delegation is appropriate, the trustee still has a duty to oversee the results.
Duty to identify and keep separate trust property. Assets in a trust are meant to be managed separately from the trustee's
own assets and identified as belonging to the trust. "Comingling"
is the act of merging funds inappropriately.
Keeping records and reporting is a related duty which provides transparency to beneficiaries and others
authorized to receive such information.
Duty to provide information to beneficiaries is another responsibility centered on communication. Trustees must inform
beneficiaries of any material fact which impacts the trust. The purpose
of this is to allow beneficiaries a chance to monitor what is happening
with trust assets.
Duty of loyalty means that a trustee should always act in a manner that keeps the best
interests of the beneficiaries in mind. Some common types of breach of
duty litigation would include: Failure to make proper and timely distributions.
Duty of prudence refers to acting with reasonable care and caution when administering the
trust. The idea is to avoid risky investments or a trustee that acts outside
the scope of his or her knowledge.
Duty to be impartial reflects the situation when there are multiple beneficiaries of a trust
- the trustee has to treat all equally. This also includes acting toward
the interests of future beneficiaries.
Any or all of these duties can form the basis for legal action by a beneficiary
to remove a trustee, seek restitution from a trustee, or challenge particular
decisions made by the trustee. These actions are lumped under the general term,
"breach of duty." Another area where disputes arise is not against the management of the
trust or the trustee, but the trust document itself. Sometimes provisions
of a trust document are ambiguous and can only be resolved through litigation.
Other times the validity of the document is challenged, as when an affected
party alleges the settlor signed the document under duress or without
the mental capacity to understand the implications of the trust.
Representing the Trustee
Litigation may arise on the trustee side of issues as well. Even appropriate
actions may be viewed by beneficiaries as unfair or as mismanagement by
the trustee. When a trustee's actions are challenged, an aggressive
defense is warranted against accusations of breach of duty. Legal representation
can help avoid personal or professional liability and your attorney will
also be able to negotiate on your behalf when going to court is not the
In other cases, a trustee may need representation to obtain assets rightfully
belonging to a trust that are being held by third parties. Assets may
be hidden or simply denied, making investigation, evaluation and, if needed,
a court's intervention.
To get the trained eye of an Oakland trust attorney from the Law Offices
of Steven M. Simrin, call
(510) 328-4005 today.