Contested Guardianship, Probate, Trusts, and Fiduciary Litigation

BaskinFleece is a trusts and estates law firm centrally located in Pinellas County, just minutes from the courthouses in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa. The firm primarily deals with controversies involving estates, trusts, wills and guardianships in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. BaskinFleece routinely deals with estate planning and litigation matters, including issues concerning the validity of wills and trusts, breach of fiduciary duty, lack of capacity, spousal rights, creditors’ rights and anything related to wills, trusts and guardianships.

BaskinFleece – Areas of Litigation:

Probate LitigationProbate and Estates Probate litigation encompasses all forms of contested matters arising in a probate matter. Some of the contested issues in Florida probate law resulting in litigation, include the validity of the decedent’s last will and testament; construing the terms of an ambiguous will; spousal share election under the elective share statute; pretermitted spouse and child issues; excessive fiduciary or attorneys’ fees; creditor claims; breach of fiduciary duty by the personal representative; improper accountings; recovery of estate assets and a plethora of other potential issues involving wills and trusts.

Trust LitigationTrusts – Many of the same contested issues in a probate estate also exist in trust matters. The main difference is that an independent civil action needs to be filed in order to invoke the jurisdiction of the court and have summonses issued to the Defendants. As Florida trust administration is not court supervised, it is up to the beneficiaries, rather than the probate judge, to make sure the trustee is discharging his duties in accordance with the trust terms and with the law. For the most part the only way a beneficiary can review what the trustee has done is through the annual accounting which the trustee must provide each qualified beneficiary every year. If the accounting is not provided, the trustee has breached his fiduciary duty to keep beneficiaries informed, which could result in litigation. There are many other fiduciary duties imposed upon a trustee which, if violated, subject the trustee to removal, surcharge or other remedies imposed by the courts. Our lawyers have handled a variety of wills and trust litigation in the courts of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and throughout Florida.

Fiduciary Litigation in ClearwaterFiduciary – Fiduciary litigation usually involves actions with trustees, personal representatives and agents holding a power of attorney for a principal. A fiduciary is a position of trust held to the highest standard of care. A fiduciary has many duties including the duty of loyalty and a duty of impartiality in the administration of wills. A fiduciary is prohibited from putting his own personal interest ahead of the person to whom he owes a duty. Fiduciary litigation in Florida can also arise in many other contexts including business relationships, partnership relationships and any other manner in which a fiduciary relationship is established.

Guardianship LitigationContested Guardianship – BaskinFleece handles all aspects of contested guardianship litigation in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Pinellas County and throughout the state of Florida. Contested guardianships are those which involve either the establishment of a guardianship or situations where the alleged incapacitated person may not in fact be incapacitated, or reasonable alternatives to a guardianship exist. Litigation; many cases are filed to prevent the exploitation or further exploitation of an individual, often a loved one, by someone who has taken over the financial, medical and social affairs of an individual who is incapacitated and unable to resist the undue influence of others. The Order Determining Incapacity may result in the loss of substantial Civil Rights, including the right to vote; to determine one’s own medical treatment; to handle one’s own financial affairs; to make a will, change a will, gift or disposition of property; to determine one’s own residence; and to travel unsupervised, to name but a few. The filing of a guardianship, while unfortunate, is often the only means to stop the financial exploitation and wrest control away from the exploiter, who can be a stranger, but may also be a neighbor, caregiver, friend, or even a family member.

In all matters, the client is and remains the firm’s main focus. Aspects of litigation such as cost, emotional impact and timeliness are all important to the client, and the firm strives for an end result which leaves the client feeling that justice was accomplished in an efficient and effective manner. For help or answers to litigation related questions, you can contact BaskinFleece at 727.572.4545.

April 1st – This Day in History: BaskinFleece Became One!

Jay Fleece and Hamden Baskin

Attorneys Jay Fleece and Hamden Baskin

April 1, 2004 – Joseph W. “Jay” Fleece, III, and Hamden H. Baskin, III, decided to combine their extensive knowledge and experience to create a unique law firm that was focused mainly on contested estate, trust and guardianship matters. Their philosophy was simple: leverage trial skills with the knowledge of probate and trust law to provide consistent, efficient and effective representation for their clients – resulting in positive outcomes. Congratulations to Jay Fleece, Hamden Baskin and their team for serving the community and its clients since 2004.

In addition to the formation of BaskinFleece, here are other interesting and historical events that happened on April 1st:

Estate expenses: The personal representative’s compensation is usually determined in one of five ways...April 1, 1778 – Creating this icon made sense: New Orleans businessman Oliver Pollock creates the “$” symbol.
April 1, 1789  The US House of Representatives had it’s first full meeting in New York City, and F. Muhlenberg is the first Speaker of the House.
April firstApril 1, 1970  Cigarette advertising was banned and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Here’s a classic ad featuring Ronald Reagan endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes.
April 1, 1985 – 47th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship: Villanova beats Georgetown 84-75
April 1, 1970 AMC introduced the Gremlin, one of the first sub compact cars way back in 1970, before many realized gas prices would be a critical factor in future car buying. The car cost $1,879. Car imports were just starting to have an impact on the US market including the Volkswagen Beetle and the new generation of Japanese imports like the Datsun.

You can contact BaskinFleece on, before, or after April 1st at 727.572.4545.

Probate and Trust Administration Challenges

Trust Administration
BaskinFleece handles all aspects of probate and trust administration.
 
Trust administration is that process whereby assets and cash which were funded into a revocable or irrevocable trust during the decedent’s lifetime or “poured into the trust after his or her passing”, are marshaled/gathered and made ready for distribution to the beneficiaries named in the trust. Trust administration also requires the filing of a notice of trust with the probate court and is the process whereby creditors are paid, and after all state and federal tax returns are filed and all creditors and other administrative expenses are paid, the trustee makes a final distribution of the trust assets and cash. The process is similar to Florida probate administration, but there is no circuit judge supervising the administration, nor is a fiduciary bond usually posted, and many times it can be accomplished more efficiently, and thereby cheaper and faster, than a full probate administration.


trusts and ProbateMany of the same contested issues in a probate estate also exist in trust matters.
 
The main difference is that an independent civil action needs to be filed in order to invoke the jurisdiction of the court and have summonses issued to the Defendants. As Florida trust administration is not court supervised, it is up to the beneficiaries, rather than the probate judge, to make sure the trustee is discharging his duties in accordance with the trust terms and with the law. For the most part the only way a beneficiary can review what the trustee has done is through the annual accounting Estate expenses: The personal representative’s compensation is usually determined in one of five ways:which the trustee must provide each qualified beneficiary every year. If the accounting is not provided, the trustee has breached his fiduciary duty to keep beneficiaries informed, which could result in litigation. There are many other fiduciary duties imposed upon a trustee which, if violated, subject the trustee to removal, surcharge or other remedies imposed by the courts. Our lawyers have handled a variety of wills and trust litigation in the courts of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and throughout Florida.

BaskinFleece lawyer Jay Fleece

Attorney Jay Fleece

BaskinFleece handles cases from the pre-suit stages, including mediation, all the way through trial, both jury and non-jury, and even at the appellate level, if necessary. The main focus of the firm in dealing with all controversies is the client. Cost, emotional impact and timeliness are all important to the client and the firm strives for an end result which leaves the client feeling that justice was accomplished. For help or answers to estate-related questions, you can contact BaskinFleece at 727.572.4545.

 

This blog is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because the law is continually changing, some provisions in this blog may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities in your particular case.

Baskin Fleece Named in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Law Firms”

U.S. NewsBaskin Fleece was included in the 2017 “Best Law Firms” list by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers©. Baskin Fleece received a tier two distinction for the St. Petersburg metro area in the field of trusts and estates litigation. Those honored in the “Best Law Firms” list are recognized for “professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers.” Selection is based on lawyer and client evaluations, peer review from leading attorneys, and review of additional information provided by law firms. To be eligible, firms must also have a lawyer who is included in the 22nd  edition of The Best Lawyers in America, a list which honors the top four percent of practicing attorneys in the country.

To schedule an appointment with a Baskin Fleece attorney, call (727) 572-4545. For more information about Baskin Fleece, visit www.BaskinFleece.com.

 

 

When does a trust terminate and the assets distributed to the beneficiaries?

BaskinFleece lawyer Jay Fleece

By Attorney Jay Fleece

In Florida, a common estate planning scenario is for someone to create a revocable trust, sometimes referred to as a “Living Trust” and place all or most of his or her assets into the trust. The Settlor, the one setting up the trust, is typically named the initial trustee and deals with the trust property in the same fashion as if the assets were still owned by and in the name of the Settlor, with the absolute right to amend or revoke the trust and without having to account to any beneficiary.

Upon the death of the Settlor, everything changes. As the Settlor can no longer amend the trust, it becomes “irrevocable” at which time the beneficiaries named in the trust become established or vested.

Living TrustMany of these “Living Trusts” are set up to provide that upon the death of the Settlor the trust terminates and distribution is made of the trust assets to the named beneficiaries, similar to a will, but without court supervision.

Before anything can be done with the assets in a Living Trust which terminates after the death of the Settlor, a successor trustee must assume the trusteeship of the trust. Typically, the Settlor has identified and nominated someone – someone highly trusted – to be the successor trustee to take over the trust upon the Settlor’s death. Many times, a Trust Company is named as the successor trustee. The nominated successor trustee should immediately engage an attorney to guide him or her through administering a trust.

Trustee has 60 days

The Florida Trust Code then requires that a successor trustee, within 60 days after finding out that a formerly revocable trust has become irrevocable (which usually means within 60 days of the Settlor’s death), to give notice to the beneficiaries of the trust’s existence, the identity of the Settlor or Settlors, the right to request a copy of the trust instrument and the right to accountings under that section of the Code.[i]

Once the successor trustee is in place to discharge the duties as trustee, are the assets then immediately distributed to the beneficiaries named in the trust? The answer is usually no even though the successor trustee is under a fiduciary duty to make distribution when the trust terminates.

Trustee an TrustThe termination date of a trust means the time at which it becomes the duty of the trustee to wind up administration of the trust. “The period for winding up the trust refers to the period after the termination date and before trust administration ends by complete distribution of the trust estate”.[ii]

Following a trust’s termination date, the trustee has a duty within a reasonable time to distribute the trust property to the persons entitled to it, and to make preliminary distributions as appropriate within the windup period.[iii]  The Florida Trust Code provides that the successor trustee shall proceed expeditiously to distribute the trust property to the persons entitled to the property, subject to the right of the trustee to retain a reasonable reserve for the payment of debts, expenses, and taxes.[iv]  The Code also provides that on termination of the trust, the successor trustee continues to possess the powers appropriate to wind up the administration of the trust and distribute the trust property to the persons entitled to the property, subject to the right of the trustee to retain a reasonable reserve for the payment of debts, expenses, and taxes.[v]  Many practioners refer to this period between the Settlor’s death and final distribution as the “windup” period, or the “windup” trust.

The common law is clear that a successor trustee’s powers and duties do not end on the trust’s termination but continues for a reasonable amount of time to wind up the administration of the trust prior to making distribution in a manner consistent with the purposes of the trust and the interests of the beneficiaries.[vi]

Living trust wind up periodWhat is a reasonable amount of time to wind-up the administration of a trust and make distribution? This question has no clear answer as each case is different depending on the assets held in the trust, whether those assets are easily valued and distributable and determining and satisfying any trust obligations including any tax liabilities. Each trust would be judged by the facts unique to its administration. There should be a legitimate reason for the trustee to have a long “windup” period, other than wanting to collect additional fees and remain in control of the trust assets. On the trust’s termination, the assets belong to the beneficiaries only subject to the “windup” period.

As part of the wind-up process, the successor trustee should provide a final accounting which should include a plan of distribution for any undistributed assets shown on the final accounting.[vii] The successor trustee cannot be held liable for not making distributions before the expiration of the six-month limitation period within which beneficiaries can challenge the final accounting, provided the beneficiary receives a limitations notice with the final accounting. The beneficiaries can always waive the six-month period by approving the accounting and releasing the successor trustee from liability as providing a final accounting is the only mechanism available to the trustee to determine and limit liability. As an alternative, the trustee may request judicial approval of the accounting but this procedure would invariably take longer than six months and be an unnecessary expense to the trust.

When these “Living Trusts” terminate upon the Settlor’s death, a successor trustee whoTrust in Tampa and St. Petersburg fails to distribute assets and bring the trust administration to a conclusion in a timely fashion after the death of the Settlor has committed a breach of fiduciary duty and can be held accountable.[viii]

The breach of the fiduciary duty to timely make distribution is usually not done in isolation but typically involves other breaches committed by the successor trustee, including failing to provide an annual accounting and either mismanaging the trust assets or using those assets for his or her own benefit.


[i] Fla. Stat. §736.0813(1)(b).
[ii] 89 Restatement of The Law on Trusts 3d, comment b.
[iii] 89 Restatement of The Law on Trusts 3d, comment (e).
[iv] Fla. Stat. §736.0817
[v] Fla. Stat. §736.0816(25)
[vi] Restatement of the Law Third, Trusts §89; Bogert’s The Law of Trusts and Trustees §1010.
[vii] Fla. Stat. §736.08135(2)(f)
[viii] DeBello v. Buckman, 916 So.2d 882 (Fla. 4DCA 2005)


This blog is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because the law is continually changing, some provisions in this blog may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities in your particular case.

Attorney Jay Fleece Is Featured in the 23rd Edition of The Best Lawyers in America©

Baskin Fleece partner Joseph W. “Jay” Fleece, III, was selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2017 in the field of Trusts and Estates Litigation. Best Lawyers is based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. This year, 7.3 million votes were analyzed, resulting inBaskinFleece lawyer Jay Fleece the inclusion of almost 55,000 lawyers in the 23rd edition. Lawyers are not required nor allowed to pay a fee to be listed. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

To schedule an appointment with a Baskin Fleece attorney, call (727) 572-4545. For more information about Baskin Fleece, visit www.BaskinFleece.com.

What Does a Personal Representative Do?

The personal representative of an estate is a person, bank, or trust company appointed by the judge to administer the decedent’s estate. In Florida, the term “personal representative” is used instead of such terms as “executor, executrix, administrator and administratrix.”

Probate assets are those assets that the decedent owned in his or her sole name at death, or that were owned by the decedent and one or more co-owners and lacked a provision for automatic succession of ownership at death. The personal representative is empowered by the court to:

  1. Identify, gather, value, and safeguard the decedent’s probate and non-probate assets.
  2. Object to improper claims against the estate, and defend suits brought on such claims.
  3. File tax returns and pay any taxes properly due.
  4. Pay valid claims against the estate.
  5. Publish a “Notice to Creditors” in a local newspaper in order to give notice to potential claimants to file claims in the manner required by law.
  6. Serve a “Notice of Administration” which provides information about the pending estate administration and notice of the procedures required to be followed by those with an objection to the administration of the decedent’s estate.
  7. Employ professionals, as necessary, to assist in the administration of the decedent’s estate; for example, attorneys, certified public accountants, appraisers and investment advisors.
  8. Conduct a diligent search to locate “known or reasonably ascertainable” creditors, and notify these creditors of the time by which their claims must be filed.
  9. joint accounts in estate planningPay expenses of administering the decedent’s estate.
  10. Pay statutory amounts to the decedent’s surviving spouse or family.
  11. Distribute estate assets to beneficiaries.
  12. Close the estate.

If the personal representative mismanages the decedent’s probate estate, the personal representative may be liable to the beneficiaries for any harm they may suffer.

To schedule an appointment with a BaskinFleece attorney, call (727) 572-4545. For more information about BaskinFleece, visit www.BaskinFleece.com.

This blog is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Some of the content of this information is courtesy of The Florida Bar and represents general legal advice. Because the law is continually changing, some provisions in this blog may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities in your particular case.