What To Do About A Breach Of Fiduciary Duty
There are many situations in which a fiduciary relationship exists. However, there are many fiduciary relationships that come into play during probate. Probate in the process that must occur prior to the execution of a will or the distribution of an estate. Through probate, a will is confirmed to be valid (or its validity is challenged) and the debts and liens on the estate are settled prior to assets being distributed. If the will is found to be invalid or if there is no will, then the estate will be settled and its assets distributed in accordance with intestate succession statutes. Through this process, personal representatives of the estate, guardians, and trustees, are all fiduciaries.
What is a Fiduciary?
A fiduciary is someone acting on behalf of another or others. Fiduciaries may be responsible for managing a trust or estate. In fact, in Florida, a fiduciary relationship exists whenever one person trusts another to act on their behalf in a financial matter or transaction. This definition is fairly broad, but becomes particularly relevant in probate and estate planning matters.
What is a Fiduciary Duty?
There are certain legal duties that fiduciaries must adhere to. For instance, fiduciaries are legally required to put the interests of those they represent ahead of their own. If a fiduciary acts in their own interest at the expense of those they represent, they have breached their fiduciary duty and can be held legally responsible for any harm that results. Fiduciaries have a duty to preserve good faith and trust, and must avoid any actions that give rise to a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
When is a Fiduciary Duty Breached?
One of the most common ways that the fiduciary duty is breached is when a fiduciary over-compensates themselves. A fiduciary is entitled to reasonable compensation for their services, which does come out of the estate prior to distribution of the assets. These fees are largely determined by statute, but additional fees can be required based on the complexity and needs of the case. For instance, if there are challenges to the validity of the will, this will require more time in court and more services from the fiduciary. However, if the fees charged are exorbitant or out of line with what would typically be expected, this can be a breach of duty. Another common way that fiduciaries may breach their duties is by self-dealing. This occurs when fiduciaries take or use assets for their own enjoyment, or sell them at a lower rate to their friends or families. This represents a conflict of interest because the estate they are representing could have received a higher payment otherwise, so it is putting their own interests above those they are representing.
Talk to a Florida Probate Lawyer
If you believe you have suffered damages as a result of a breach of fiduciary duty, or you are in need or representation for a probate-related matter, contact the West Palm Beach probate lawyers at the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today and schedule a consultation.