Probate Litigation Involving Executors and Beneficiaries; Misconduct and Breaches of Legal Duties
When a person places trust or confidence in another person to act on their behalf, the person taking on that trust or confidence is called a fiduciary. As long as they knowingly accept the trust, they have a fiduciary duty or legal responsibility to act in the other person’s best interests. In a fiduciary relationship, the law forbids the fiduciary from acting contrary to the interests of the client or for their benefit in regard to the subject matter. The client is entitled to the fiduciary’s best efforts on their behalf, and the fiduciary needs to use the utmost skill, care, and thoroughness when acting for the client. In the state of Ohio, several types of relationships fall under the category of fiduciary duty, one of which is that between a trustee and an estate’s beneficiaries.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
A trustee is the fiduciary appointed to fulfill the requirements of a trust related to an estate. Suppose, for some reason; they fail to act in accordance with the decedent’s instructions or with their own legal obligations. In that case, probate litigation may be used to have the fiduciary suspended or removed, have a responsible fiduciary appointed, and recover damages from the fiduciary when funds have been wasted or mismanaged or when excessive fees have been taken.
To file and succeed in a breach of fiduciary duty claim, the claimant must be able to prove that the breach caused damages, such as financial losses. Also, the damages must be directly linked to actions that the fiduciary took or failed to take. For instance, an estate’s beneficiary could file for breach of fiduciary duty if a piece of property sold from an estate were sold too quickly. However, the only way for such a claim to stand would be if the beneficiary could prove that the trustee’s actions in conducting the sale had led to lost income from the proceeds. The fiduciary could then argue that the quick sale was needed and was in the beneficiary’s best interests because of problems with the property or lack of interested buyers. In this case, the alleged damages, the loss of income from the sale could not be directly related to the trustee’s actions, and no breach would be deemed to exist.