When a person creates a will, he or she often names a representative to manage the estate after his or her death. The person who is responsible for administrating the estate has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the will and not in his or her own interests.
If the estate administrator fails to act in this way, he or she may have breached their fiduciary duty.
In order to make this determination, a court may consider several factors including whether a fiduciary relationship existed, the scope of the relationship and duties of the fiduciary and whether any of these duties were breached in the scope of the relationship.
Elements of a breach
Generally, three elements must be proven in order to prove a breach of fiduciary duty. First, the estate administrator must have had a duty to the beneficiaries. These may include good faith and fair dealing, full disclosure and loyalty.
There must be evidence that the estate administrator breached this duty by failing to disclose information, misappropriated funds, misused their position or neglected their responsibilities.
Finally, the beneficiaries must prove that they suffered damages and the breach of fiduciary duty was the cause of those damages.
If these elements are proven, the beneficiaries may be able to recover for actual damages incurred and may also be able to recover punitive damages if malice or fraud were also involved.
The outcome will be dependent on the individual’s circumstances. An experienced attorney can provide guidance and representation for breach of fiduciary duty matters and related estate planning issues.