The probate process can be stressful for everyone. Trustees and estate administrators might be concerned about how to navigate the process without straying from their obligations, and beneficiaries are often worried about how assets are being managed and distributed. This can lead to extensive litigation that can have long-term consequences and severe financial implications. One way that these disputes come up is through allegations that the fiduciary duty has been breached.
What is the fiduciary duty?
Simply put, a fiduciary is someone who must put the interests of another before their own. In the context of estate planning and probate, this means that a trustee or estate administrator must act in a way that puts the interests of the estate and named beneficiaries first. If he or she doesn’t, then financial harm can be caused to the estate and those beneficiaries.
What are some signs that the fiduciary duty has been breached?
When the fiduciary duty has been breached and harm has resulted, then legal action is justified. But pinning down when a breach has occurred can be hard to do. Here are some red flags that you can be on the lookout for:
- The estate’s assets have been commingled with the trustee’s assets, thereby making it difficult to determine where the estate’s assets end and the trustee’s begin.
- Large withdrawals are taken from the estate with inadequate or no justification.
- Certain assets within the estate go missing without explanation or with questionable explanation.
- The estate’s accounting practices are insufficient or incomplete.
- The trustee or estate administrator has a hard time answering questions or dodges your communications.
- The trustee or estate administrator seems to favor one beneficiary over others.
- The trustee or estate administrator seems to have suddenly acquired wealth, evidence by major purchases.
These are just some factors that may be indicative of the fiduciary duty being breached. If you see any of these, then now is the time to ask more questions and investigate further.
What should you do if you suspect that the fiduciary duty has been breached?
If you think that the fiduciary duty has been breached, then you should start gathering as much evidence as you can to support your position. Make sure that you’re documenting your conversations with the trustee or the estate administrator and retain all email and text communications with him or her. You should secure the estate’s accounting documents and try to figure out where all of the estate’s assets have gone. This might be easier said than done, but there are legal maneuvers that you can deploy to help you get the information you need.
How an attorney may be able to help you
We know that there’s often a hesitancy to seek out legal help when there’s a suspicion that something has gone wrong. After all, in many instances, people chalk these issues up to miscommunications, misunderstandings, and bad luck. But you should trust your gut feeling. If you suspect that some wrongdoing has occurred, then think about discussing that with an attorney.
An attorney who is experienced in these probate and estate administration matters can help you gather the information that you need to fully assess your case, whether that be through subpoena, deposition, or some other discovery tool. If a breach of the fiduciary duty has occurred, then your attorney can aggressively pursue the legal action that is necessary to find accountability and recover the compensation that you’re owed. This advocacy can lift a burden from your shoulders and give you peace of mind knowing that your case is in good hands.
If you’re interested in learning more about what an attorney can do for you in these circumstances, then you may want to continue to research your representation options and have conversations with those firms that you think may be a good fit for you.