A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a trustee to manage assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries. There are many different types of trusts including minor trusts, marital trusts, special needs trusts, and spendthrift trusts. Each trust has a trust document that defines the terms of the trust including who the beneficiaries are as well as how and when the assets pass to the beneficiaries. Unfortunately, on occasion disputes develop resulting in trust litigation. An experienced Washington, D.C. trust litigation lawyer should be contacted if you are involved in a dispute related to the management, creation, or construction of a trust.
Common Reasons for Trust Disputes in Washington, D.C.
The most common reasons for trust litigation are allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, under influence, lack of capacity, improper execution, and vague language.
- Breach of fiduciary duty. A trustee is a fiduciary. This means that the trustee must fulfill their duties with a high level of honesty and care with the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind. A violation of fiduciary duty occurs when a trustee fails to meet their legal obligations as defined by the trust agreement or by law due to neglect or willfulness. Breach of fiduciary duty actions are generally brought be beneficiaries.
- Undue influence. A trust is only valid if it reflects the true wishes of the person who created it. Undue influence occurs when someone takes advantage of a trust creator who is vulnerable and manipulates them into creating a trust that they would not have otherwise created. The result is a trust that is not legally binding. Because undue influence is difficult to prove and often depends on circumstantial evidence, contact an experienced Washington, D.C. trust litigation lawyer to discuss your concerns. Note that just because the trust creator was vulnerable and became the victim of undue influence does not mean that they lacked capacity.
- Lack of capacity. In order for a person to create a valid trust, they must have had the mental capacity to do so. This means that the person much have understood the legal ramifications of creating the trust and the terms they chose to include in the trust agreement. If a person suffered from a significant cognitive disorder, they may have the capacity to execute a trust or any other estate document.
- Vague language. Trust construction litigation can be initiated when a term in the trust is vague and open to multiple or conflicting interpretations. The court is asked to step in and determine its meaning. The court will attempt to figure out the intent of the trust creator at the time they created the trust. Generally courts will only look at the language in the trust and not consider extrinsic language. However, if the language is ambiguous, they will consider extrinsic evidence to prove what the creator intended.
Legal Standing to Initiate Trust Litigation in Washington, D.C.
As an experienced trust litigation attorney serving Washington, D.C will explain, trust litigation cannot be initiated by everyone. The person initiating trust litigation must have legal standing. Legal standing refers to a person or entity’s right to bring or defend a lawsuit. When it comes to trust litigation, generally, only the trustee have standing to initiate litigation as they have the responsibility of managing and protecting trust property. On the other hand, beneficiaries generally do not play a part in trust litigation. The exception to this is if the litigation is an allegation of a breach of fiduciary duty. The beneficiaries would have standing.
Consequences of Trust Litigation in Washington, D.C.
The consequences of trust litigation in Washington, D.C. depends on the type of trust litigation. If the litigation is about whether the trust creator had legal capacity or was under undue influence when they created the trust and the objectant prevailed then ghee consequence might be that the trust is dissolved. According to an experienced trust litigation attorney serving Washington, D.C, if the litigation was fiduciary litigation and the petitioner prevailed, the consequence might involve the suspension of the fiduciary.