The personal representative of a will — and the trustee of a trust — are those persons appointed under a document or pursuant to a law to be responsible for the assets named in the will or the administration of the assets in the trust. Such individuals are, essentially, “guardians” of the estate, and have a fiduciary duty to beneficiaries to handle their duties with diligence and care.
When they fail to do so or are believed to have failed, a formal complaint may be brought, claiming fiduciary misconduct and demanding payment of lost assets from the executor’s or trustee’s personal assets. The complaint may be brought before a state administrative office called the Commissioners of Accounts, or in some cases, a civil lawsuit may be filed.
What Does Fiduciary Duty Mean?
Fiduciary duty is a legal concept describing the relationship of trust on the one hand and responsibility on the other hand between two or more people — one with responsibility for money and other assets that are for the benefit of the other person. Every personal representative of a will has a fiduciary duty to the will’s beneficiaries. Every trustee has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust.
Fiduciary duty requires the responsible party to act with regard to the assets in ways that show loyalty solely to the beneficiary’s interests. Examples of fiduciary misconduct include misspending of funds, mishandling of funds, failure to comply with prudent investor rules.
To bring a fiduciary misconduct complaint requires filing formal objections or a claim with the Commissioners of Accounts, which is followed by a debts and demands hearing at which the inventory or accounting is examined and a decision is made.
Northern Virginia Attorneys Representing Clients in Breach of Fiduciary Duty Suits
There are many reasons that a trustor establishes a trust. Perhaps they are trying to financially protect their children until they reach a certain age. Maybe the trustor is concerned about the ongoing operation of a business. Sometimes there are tax incentives. In any case, the selection of a reliable trustee (the person who will administer the trust) is of paramount importance. However, experience has taught us at Hale Ball that not all trustees live up to their fiduciary responsibilities. Experience has also taught us that even when they do, they’re not invulnerable to accusations of breach of fiduciary duty.
What Constitutes a Breach of Fiduciary Duty
In simple terms, a breach of fiduciary duty is any action that violates the trust. However, even if an action doesn’t specifically violate the written terms of the trust, negligence, incompetence, and malfeasance can still constitute a breach of fiduciary duty. Breaches of fiduciary duty can include anything from a poor choice of investment for the trust, to the allocation of assets in a proscribed manner, to criminal actions like fraud or embezzlement, to diverting funds for individual gains. If you feel that you are the beneficiary of a trust, and you feel that the trustee may have committed a breach, the Attorneys at Hale Ball can assess your claim and represent you in your legal action.
The Vulnerability Of Trustees
If you are the administrator of a trust, you may find yourself in conflict with individuals who have a claim—or feel that they have a claim—to the trust. If those individuals are successful, you could find yourself financially liable or even facing criminal charges. The Virginia attorneys of Hale Ball are experienced in all phases of trust law and estate planning. They’ve represented both plaintiffs and defendants in fiduciary breach suits. This focus on a specific practice area gives them a unique experience. When your reputation, financial well-being, and possibly even your freedom are on the line, you want an experienced litigator to handle your defense—one like you’ll find at the law firm of Hale Ball.
Contact Hale Ball, for More Information
Often, early intervention in claims of fiduciary misconduct can aid early — and cost-effective — resolution. If you have questions about fiduciary misconduct — as a personal representative, trustee or beneficiary — contact our office to schedule a confidential consultation.
Since 1980 the AV-rated law firm of Hale Ball has served the legal needs of individuals and businesses. Our team of attorneys include lawyers named to Super Lawyer and Rising Star lists, as well as attorneys with advanced legal degrees, specialty certifications and lawyers who teach their areas of practice to other lawyers.
Use the contact form on this page to schedule a consultation, or call 703-591-4900.
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