A trust is a legal entity that allows the creator of the trust to transfer assets to one or more recipients, called trustees. The trustee or trustee holds legal title to the assets in the trust and manages them for the benefit of the beneficiary or beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust agreement. Trusts are often compared to wills. While they are both instruments that can be used to transfer assets from one person to others, there are some significant differences. One difference is that while will transfer assets only after the death of the testator, generally, a trust can be used to transfer assets during a person’s lifetime. Just like disputes can develop during the process of probating a will or estate administration, disputes can develop during the administration of a trust, leading to litigation. An experienced Michigan trust litigation lawyer would be needed for guidance if a trust-related dispute develops.
Common Reasons for Trust Disputes in Massachusetts
Three of the most common reasons that trust disputes develop in Massachusetts are allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, invalid trust, and vague language.
- Breach of fiduciary duty. Because the trustee has a fiduciary relationship with the trust beneficiaries, they are required to perform their duties with a high degree of skill and honesty. They most do what is in the best interest of the beneficiaries and not self-deal. For example, a trustee would be in breach of their fiduciary duty if they chose to sell real estate that was part of the trust to a friend at below list price when there were other ready, willing, and able buyers willing to pay above list price.
- Invalid trust. Any legal document such as a contract, will, power of attorney, or trust, is only legally enforceable if it was created in a legal manner. For a trust to be valid, it must have been executed by the trust creator with all of the legally required formalities. For example, the trust agreement must have been signed by the creator. In addition, at the time of execution, the trust creator must not have been coerced, under undue influence, or mentally impaired. As an experienced Michigan trust litigation lawyer can explain, proof that the trust was not properly created may result in the court invalidating it.
- Vague language. A trust agreement should be clear. A trust that is properly drafted will have clear terms that are not open to multiple interpretations. When there is vague language, the trustee may have to petition the court to make a determination as to what the intent of the trustor creator was. The court will attempt to glean the intent of the creator by looking at the entire trust agreement. However, in some instances the court will have to consider extrinsic evidence presented by the litigants.
Legal Standing to Initiate Trust Litigation in Massachusetts
As an experienced trust litigation attorney in Massachusetts will explain, the person initiating trust litigation must have legal standing. Essentially that means that the person must have something to do with the issue before the court. For example, if you are a beneficiary of a trust and believe that the trustee is mismanaging trust funds, you would have standing to file a breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit. You may have shared your concerns with your best friend. Even though your best friend is enraged and wants what’s in your best interest, the best friend would not have legal standing to file the lawsuit.
Initiating Trust Litigation in Massachusetts
Not every trust dispute must end in litigation before a judge in court. There are alternative ways to resolve disputes. Sometimes even disputes that seem too complicated or bitter to resolve without a judge can be resolved through alternative solutions such as negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. An experienced trust litigation attorney serving Michigan can help determine the best strategy to resolve your trust dispute, including litigation, if necessary.