Trust Litigation Attorneys in San Diego, CA
Southern California Trust Litigation Attorneys
Given that a trust is basically a special form of contract between the person who created it and the trustee, and in society, contracts of all kind are frequently breached. The fact that the trust contract (technically the “trust agreement”) often stays in operation for a very long time creates more opportunities for breaches. Add in the fact that the law imposes very strict duties on the trustee, who occupies a unique position of control of assets that are intended to benefit others, and it shouldn’t be surprising that trusts generate a considerable amount of trust and probate litigation.
Much, but not all, of that litigation is directed at the trust and trustee, based on claims of violation of the trust agreement or breach of duty. These cases necessarily involve technical details of trust law, interpretation of the trust agreement and a thorough understanding of the trustee’s duties. An experienced trust litigator can provide all three, as well as insights on the best strategies for settling the dispute early.
Nature of Trustee’s Obligation
Trustees are subject to multiple duties concerning the trust. These are “fiduciary” duties, imposing a higher than normal standard of conduct.
The foremost of those is the duty to administer the trust in accord with the trust agreement. That is the obligation formally imposed by the agreement itself. That duty includes, as a matter of public policy, that administration of the trust also comply with all applicable laws.
A related duty requires that the trustee, regardless of his sophistication level, to be aware of and understand the trust purpose and its specific terms—ignorance is no excuse for breaching the trust agreement. Having the advice of a good trust attorney can prevent this problem.
Among the trustee’s other duties are the duty to:
- Act prudently in managing the affairs and investments of the trust
- Act impartially
- Identify which property is trust property and keep it separate from other property
- Provide adequate information to the trust beneficiaries
- Keep sufficient records
- Issue reports
Remedies Available Against Trustee
In many cases, the person suing the trustee asks for money damages for the losses suffered by the trust and/or the beneficiary. Breach of trust damages are ordinarily the larger of the improper profit the trustee received through his breach, and the amount of money that is required to put the trust back in the position in which it would have been absent the breach.
Not all litigation has money damages as its goal however. Depending on the circumstances of the breach, the person suing the trustee may also obtain other relief, including:
- Removal of the trustee
- An order that the trustee perform his duties
- An injunction against further breaches of duty
- Recovering trust assets that have been improperly transferred
- Reducing or refusing the trustee’s compensation
No Contest Clauses
Any discussion of trust litigation must take account of the “no contest” clauses in many trust agreements. These deny trust benefits to any person named as a beneficiary if that person contests the trust. Not surprisingly, courts try to balance the goals of recognizing the trust creator’s intent with the benefit gained from allowing contests which have considerable merit.
Accordingly, no-contest clauses may be effective, but not always.
Trust Litigation Assistance
Trust litigation is not only inherently technical; it frequently involves considerable sums of money and a significant emotional component. If you’re a trustee under fire, or a trust beneficiary on fire because your trust interest is being ignored or reduced below what the trust agreement calls for, the experienced attorneys at the Boyd Law Firm in San Diego can help reduce the anxiety and stress. We understand the value of settling disputes, and the best ways to accomplish that. If the case needs to go to court, we have an excellent record of success for our clients.
Contact Boyd Law today and tell us what has been going on with the trust in your life. Learn how we can help. The consultation is free and without obligation.