Liability Traps Under Florida Trust Code: Serving As Trustee of Family Trust Has Risks

Many people in Florida serve as trustees of family trusts where the beneficiaries are other family members and their respective children. Serving without compensation as a trustee for other family members at the bequest of a family trustmaker is not a problem as long as all family members get along. However, when disagreement and dissension arises within the family the job of trustee is a liability trap. Disgruntled family members, sometimes motivated by their spouses, may be able to sue family trustees for failure to comply with trustee duties set forth in Florida’s trust laws.

Florida enacted a revised trust code in 2007 which increased duties for trustees of all Florida trust. Each trustee is required to provide all beneficiaries of every trust an annual accounting. The beneficiary does not have to request the accounting; the trustee is required to compile and deliver annual accountings whether requested or not. Beneficiaries may waive their right to an accounting provided the waiver is given in writing to the trustee. A trustee who fails to provide an annual report, or fails to perform other trustee duties, is liable for breach of trust under Florida Statute 736.1001 (1). Any beneficiary can sue a trustee for failure to provide an accounting or for other breach of duties under the trust code. If a beneficiary brings a legal action for breach of trust the court is required to award costs and attorneys fees.