Will contests, which turn on whether a will is valid are some of the most common trust and estate lawsuits. An interested person or heir can file a petition to contest the validity of a will within six months after a will is admitted to probate in Illinois. A will contest case can be tried by a jury. Under the doctrine of election anyone who accepts a beneficial interest from will or trust in Illinois is considered to be ratifying and confirming the total will or trust that provided the benefits.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty by Trustee
The second most common trust and estate dispute litigated by the Stoltmann Law Offices Commercial Litigation Group is a trustee’s breach of fiduciary duty. A trustee owes many duties to the beneficiaries, including:
- Reasonable Care
- Duty of skill and care
- Duty of impartiality
- Duty of loyalty and faithfulness
- Duty to avoid conflict of interest
- Duty to administer trust by its terms
- Duty to give notices
- Duty to provide information and to communicate
- Duty to account
- Duty not to delegate
- Duty to segregate trust property
- Duty to invest
- Duty to enforce and defend claims
- Duty of confidentiality
- Duty to distribute
The Trustee must abide by “the prudent investor rule” meaning the trustee must follow investment strategies that use reasonable business judgment and take into account the reasonable production of income as well as the safety of capital in a trust as a whole. If a trustee is having special knowledge such as an accountant or lawyer he must use it when managing the trust.
The court has power to appoint a trustee ad litem and enjoin the use of current trust assets by a trustee that breached his duty. In order to secure a preliminary injunction, a beneficiary will need to show that he or she has defined right that needs protection, that the action will likely succeed on its merits, that irreparable harm will occur without the injunction that cannot be cured with money damages.
The trust document itself may be unclear. Trusts are interpreted with the goal of effectuating the intentions of the creator of the trust, or settlor. So long as this intent is in line with the law or public policy, the court will try to make sure those intentions are followed by using the ordinary meaning of the words in the trust. The court will look at outside evidence only when there is some sort of ambiguity in the language of the trust, and the intent therefore cannot be easily ascertained.