Trusts Litigation attorney

Trusts: When do they terminate and assets distributed to beneficiaries?

Trusts last will and testament In Florida, a common estate planning scenario is to create revocable trusts, sometimes referred to as a “Living Trust” and place all or most of the 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 for 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. Many 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.

Trusts and TrusteeBefore 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.

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

Trusts estate planningFollowing 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 wind-up 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 practitioners 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 the distribution in a manner consistent with the purposes of the trust and the interests of the beneficiaries.[vi]

Trusts trustees distribution

What 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 “wind-up” 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 “wind-up” 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.

Trusts litigation courtWhen these “Living Trusts” terminate upon the Settlor’s death, a successor trustee who 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)

IRS and Estate Taxes

The IRS, Estate Taxes and Personal Representative

IRS and estate taxesA personal representative has the responsibility to pay estate taxes owed by the decedent or the estate to the IRS.

Estate taxes are normally paid from probate assets in the decedent’s estate, and not by the personal representative from his or her own assets. However, under certain circumstances, the personal representative may be personally liable for taxes due to the IRS  if they are not properly paid.

Estate taxes and the IRSThe estate will not have any tax filing or payment obligations to the State of Florida. However, if the decedent owed Florida intangibles taxes for any year prior to the repeal of the intangibles tax as of January 1, 2007, the personal representative must pay those taxes to the Florida Department of Revenue.

The decedent’s death has two significant tax consequences. It ends the decedent’s last tax year for purposes of filing the decedent’s federal income tax return, and it establishes a new tax entity, the “estate.”

The personal representative may be required to file one or more of the following returns, depending upon the circumstances:

The decedent’s final Form 1040, Federal Income Tax Return, reporting the decedent’s income for the year of the decedent’s death.

  • IRS estate taxesOne or more Forms 1041, Federal Income Tax Returns for the Estate, reporting the estate’s taxable income.
  • Form 709, Federal Gift Tax Return(s), reporting gifts made by the decedent prior to death.
  • Form 706, Federal Estate Tax Return, reporting the decedent’s gross estate, depending upon the value of the gross estate.

The personal representative may also be required to file other returns not specifically mentioned here. 

To schedule an appointment with Jay Fleece:  

Phone: 727-471-5868  

Probate and Trust litigation

Probate Assets: Real estate, Insurance, Annuities …

Are Real Estate, Insurance Policies and IRA’s Probate Assets?

Probate administration of assetsProbate administration only applies to probate assets. A probate asset is assets that the decedent owned in his or her sole name at death. Probate assets also were owned by the decedent and one or more co-owners – and lacked a provision for automatic succession of ownership at death.

Some types of probate assets:

real estate probate assetsReal estate titled in the sole name of the decedent, or in the name of the decedent and another person as tenants in common, is a probate asset (unless it is homestead property). Real estate titled in the name of the decedent and one or more other persons as joint tenants with rights of survivorship is not a probate asset.

Property owned by husband and wife as tenants by the entirety is not a probate asset on the death of the first spouse to die but goes automatically to the surviving spouse.

Probate assets Life InsuranceLife insurance policy, annuity contract or individual retirement account that is payable to a specific beneficiary is not a probate asset. A life insurance policy, annuity contract or individual retirement account payable to the decedent’s estate is.

Probate assets bank account and investmentsBank accounts or investment accounts in the sole name of a decedent is a probate asset. A bank account or investment account owned by the decedent and payable on death or transferable on death to another, or held jointly with rights of survivorship with another, is not a probate asset.

This list is not exclusive but is intended to be illustrative.



The information above 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.

Probate and Trust Administration Challenges

Attorney Jay Fleece handles all aspects of probate and trust administration – and litigation.

Trust AdministrationTrust 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. The key is to have an honest trustee, otherwise, litigation may ensue.

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.

St. Petersburg Lawyer Jay Fleece deals with litigationSt. Petersburg attorney Jay Fleece 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.

To schedule an appointment with Jay Fleece:  

Phone: 727-471-5868 

Estate trustee litigation

Estate and Trust Litigation: Holding the Trustee Accountable


A trustee is a person who has broad discretion with very little oversight over someone else’s assets. Practically the only time a beneficiary can review what the trustee has done and have an opportunity to challenge those actions, through possible trust litigation, is when the trustee provides an accounting to the beneficiary. As such, one of the many duties a trustee has is the duty to inform and account. This fiduciary duty is critically important to ensure that the trustee is properly discharging his or her fiduciary duties in managing the affairs of the trust.


Trust litigation and estate planningThe law of trusts has always imposed a duty on the trustee to keep the beneficiary informed as to the administration of the trust and to account to the beneficiary for all actions taken by the trustee. Without a proper accounting disclosing how the trustee has handled the trust affairs, there is little chance of a trustee being held accountable and therefore, the trustee’s duties could be breached at will without any means of redress.

To avoid estate and trust litigation, the burden of proof is on the fiduciary to show that they have fully performed their duties, and the means for such proof is by providing a sufficient and proper accounting.

To continue reading this article please click here: Avoid Estate Litigation.

“A trustee has a duty to maintain clear, complete, and accurate books and records regarding the trust. It is important for the trustee to keep clear and complete 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.”