Many of the same contested issues in a probate estate also exist in trust estate litigation 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 trust estate litigation, and the trustee is held liable.
Duty to Account: A trustee has broad discretion in dealing with trust property, subject to the duty of loyalty, a duty of impartiality and the other fiduciary duties imposed on the trustee. The trustee operates with very little oversight by anyone over the trust’s assets. The trustee is not under court supervision unless the court’s jurisdiction is invoked and is only accountable to the beneficiaries of the trust. Practically the only time a beneficiary can review what the trustee has done and have an opportunity to challenge those actions is when the trustee provides an accounting to the beneficiary, if not it is the grounds for trust estate litigation.
As the equitable owner of the trust property, the beneficiary has a vested interest in the management and administration of the trust and has an enforceable right to an accounting from a trustee. Furthermore, because the trustee has a fiduciary obligation to the beneficiary, the beneficiary must be accurately informed as to what the trust property consists and how it is being managed. The beneficiary must be accurately informed about the administration of the trust in order to hold the trustee to the proper standard of care and honesty and to enforce his [the beneficiary’s] rights in the trust.
A trustee has a duty to maintain clear, complete and accurate books and records regarding the trust administration and at reasonable intervals must provide beneficiaries with reports or accounting. It is important for the trustee to keep accurate records so that the beneficiary can tell whether the trustee has acted with prudence, loyalty, and impartiality and whether the costs of administration have been reasonable and appropriate.