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)

Trustee Provide an Accounting

When Must the Trustee Provide Accounting?

trustee provide accounting to trustFundamental to trust law, a trustee is always under a duty to give information to a beneficiary. So when must the trustee provide accounting? Most states have enacted statutes specifically dealing with this duty to account. In Florida Fla. Stat. 736.0813 provides that a trustee shall provide a trust accounting to the trust beneficiaries at least annually and on the termination of the trust.

The trustee has a whole year to operate as trustee without being required to provide an accounting to the beneficiaries. But, the trustee must provide an accounting annually. This accounting is the primary method a beneficiary can hold a trustee accountable. Without an accounting, a beneficiary is virtually powerless and at the mercy of the trustee.

Calendar for trustee provide accountingMany have asked the question – exactly when is the accounting due? While none of the trust statutes specify a specific time frame when the accounting is due once a year has elapsed, common sense would suggest that a trustee has a reasonable amount of time to provide the accounting.

When must the trustee provide accounting? In my opinion, a reasonable amount of time would approximately 90 days from the close of the accounting period. This provides the trustee sufficient time to gather up the final month’s information and assemble the actual trust accounting.

What if the trustee does not provide the trust accounting? I would suggest that you write to the trustee shortly after the accounting period is up to request an accounting. If the trustee fails or refuses to provide an accounting, you may be justified in arguing that the trustee has committed a breach of fiduciary duty and even a fraud and should at the very least, be removed for intentionally refusing to provide the accounting.

Trustee provide accounting art courtIf the accounting is not forthcoming a beneficiary can compel the accounting by filing a lawsuit for an accounting. I strongly urge trust beneficiaries to be vigilant in monitoring the trustee and making sure a timely accounting is provided.

To schedule an appointment with Jay Fleece:  

Phone: 727-471-5868   jfleece@legacyprotectionlawyers.com  

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   jfleece@legacyprotectionlawyers.com 

Trust estate litigation

Trust estate litigation: breach of fiduciary duty

Many of the same contested issues in a probate estate also exist in trust estate litigation matters.

Trust estate litigationThe 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 Trust estate litigation and the trustee's responsibilityunder 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.

Trust estate litigation accountingA 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.

To schedule an appointment with Jay Fleece:  

Phone: 727-471-5868   jfleece@legacyprotectionlawyers.com  

St. Petersburg lawyer Jay Fleece handles Litigation

St. Petersburg lawyer: Probate, Trusts, Guardianship and Fiduciary Law

This St. Petersburg Lawyer routinely deals with contested probate and trust litigation matters helping families protect their legacy.

Issues handled by St. Petersburg lawyer Jay Fleece concern the validity of wills and trusts, breach of fiduciary duty, lack of capacity, spousal rights, creditors’ rights and anything related to wills, trusts, and contested guardianships.

Areas of Litigation:

Probate courtProbate litigation encompasses all forms of contested matters arising in a probate. 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.

Trusts Litigation 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 family lawyer St. Petersburgtrust 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. Jay has handled a variety of wills and trust litigation in the courts of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and throughout Florida.

Fiduciary Litigation 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
 St. Petersburg lawyer Jay Fleece 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.


St. Petersburg Lawyer Jay Fleece deals with litigation
In all matters, the client is and remains Legacy Protection Lawyers main concern, as the firm helps to protect the family legacy.  Aspects of litigation such as cost, emotional impact, and timeliness are all important to the client, and this St. Petersburg lawyer 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 St. Petersburg lawyer Jay Fleece at 727-471-5868jfleece@legacyprotectionlawyers.com