How might you breach your fiduciary duty?

When you agree to act as someone’s Pennsylvania executor or trustee, you make yourself a fiduciary. Consequently, as FindLaw explains, in everything you do while acting in that capacity, you must put the interests of the estate, trust, heirs and/or beneficiaries ahead of your own interests.

It goes without saying that becoming an executor or trustee puts you in the position of having to assume important responsibilities. Obviously you need to perform your duties to the best of your ability, but no one expects you to be perfect. You are human, after all, and human beings often make inadvertent mistakes. No one will sue you should you make one of these mistakes. The heirs or beneficiaries may sue you, however, if you breach your fiduciary duties.

Examples

Again, inadvertent mistakes do not constitute a breach. Instead, a breach happens if you deliberately do something counter to the heirs’ or beneficiaries’ best interests such as one of the following:

  • Knowingly place your best interests above those of the heirs or beneficiaries
  • Knowingly favor one of the heirs or beneficiaries above the others
  • Knowingly provide misleading, inadequate or false information to the heirs or beneficiaries
  • Knowingly make a decision or follow a course of action that you know will result in the estate, trust, heirs or beneficiaries suffering a financial loss

Proving fiduciary breach

Should someone file a breach of fiduciary suit against you, (s)he will need to prove the following:

  • That the will named you as estate executor or that the trust named you as trustee
  • That the will or trust included provisions as to the duties you would perform in your fiduciary capacity
  • That you knowingly breached your fiduciary duties by doing something counter to the provisions of the will or trust
  • That because you breached your fiduciary duties, the estate, trust, heir(s) or beneficiary/ies suing you suffered monetary damages

If the plaintiff wins his, her or its lawsuit, you will need to reimburse him, her or it for the damages sustained, plus interest from the date of your breach. Should the jury find that your fiduciary breach represented an especially egregious one, it could award the plaintiff(s) punitive damages as well as actual damages.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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