What You Need to Prove in a Fiduciary Duty Claim

Fri Dec 16, 2022 | Probate |

When an estate is admitted to probate, the personal representative owes a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate. When conflicts arise between the personal representative and the beneficiaries, one of the most common claims that is made is that the personal representative has breached their fiduciary duty. While this is an easy claim to make, it can be very difficult to prove. If you are facing a potential fiduciary duty claim as either a beneficiary or a personal representative, the best thing to do is contact a probate litigation attorney for guidance. 

Understand the Elements of a Fiduciary Duty Claim

In order to successfully pursue a fiduciary duty claim, you must prove each of the following three elements: 

  1. A fiduciary relationship exists. A fiduciary relationship exists when one person (the fiduciary) has an obligation to act in the best interests of another person. In a probate case, the issue is typically whether the personal representative has a fiduciary duty to the person bringing the claim. For example, you may not be able to prove that a fiduciary relationship exists if you would not benefit in any way from the administration of the estate. 
  2. The fiduciary has breached their duty. This is the critical element in most fiduciary cases and can be quite difficult to prove. Personal representatives can use their discretion in how to administer the estate so long as it is consistent with the directions laid out in the will. Making a mistake does not necessarily mean that they have breached their fiduciary duty. 
  3. The breach of the fiduciary is the proximate cause of your harm. In other words, you need to prove that you were harmed in some way by the personal representative’s breach of fiduciary duty. The fact that they breached their duty is not enough to support a claim. 

Whether you are a personal representative or a beneficiary, an experienced probate litigation attorney will be able to evaluate whether you may be facing a valid breach of fiduciary duty claim. 

Common Examples of Breaches of Fiduciary Duty

To better understand what may be considered a breach of fiduciary duty and what may not, the following examples may be helpful:

  • The personal representative is using estate assets such as vacation properties or cars for personal use. 
  • The personal representative is over-paying themselves beyond what is reasonable compensation for their efforts. 
  • The personal representative is neglecting their duties such as paying taxes or creditors’ claims. 
  • The personal representative is making imprudent decisions regarding investment or disposition of estate assets.

Talk to a Probate Litigation Attorney at Ellis Law Group Today 

Claims concerning the breach of a personal representative’s fiduciary duty are among some of the most complex probate issues you can face. Whether you are a personal representative or a beneficiary, the consequences of an adverse outcome can be significant. Do not wait to get the help you need – call us today at 561-910-7500 or send us an email to schedule a consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.