Coping with the loss of a loved one is never easy, but doing so can be even more challenging when you run into issues with his or her estate. These issues can run the gamut of severity, and they can touch on a whole host of issues. That’s why it’s important to have a basic understanding of probate law and how you can use it to your advantage. This is especially true when you suspect that your loved one’s estate is being mishandled.
Understanding the fiduciary duty
In basic terms, those individuals who are in charge of administering estates and trusts have a duty to put the financial interests of heirs and beneficiaries before their own. That might sound like common sense, but the fiduciary duty is breached all the time, meaning that the person in charge of the estate or the trust makes decisions that benefit their own financial interests at the estate or trust’s detriment. This could leave you and other loved ones at a distinct financial disadvantage. That’s why you need to know how to spot signs of breach of the fiduciary duty so that you can take effective legal action when needed.
Several months ago on the blog, we talked about the basic elements that must be shown to demonstrate that the fiduciary duty has been breached. However, you would ideally catch a breach of fiduciary duty shortly after the egregious behavior starts so that you can protect your interests as fully as possible. Here are some of those red flags:
- Estate assets are missing: This might sound egregious enough to never happen, but it does with relative frequency. In far too many cases, estate assets seem to seemingly vanish. If this happens, you need to ask pointed questions. If there’s no reasonable explanation, then there’s probably been a breach of the fiduciary duty.
- Poor accounting practices: Fiduciaries are required to keep detailed records that must be reviewed by the court and provided to beneficiaries. When those records are incomplete, missing, or erroneous, then that may be a sign that the fiduciary is either hiding something or acting negligently with the trust’s assets. In either circumstance, a breach of fiduciary duty may have occurred.
- Commingling of assets: This is a telltale sign of breach. Here, the fiduciary simply mixes trust assets with his or her own. This could be as obvious as depositing trust funds into a personal bank account.
- Bad decision-making: A fiduciary is likely to make investment decisions and payment decisions with estate assets, and he or she is supposed to be diligent in assessing their options and choosing the one that best protects the interests of a beneficiary. In many instances, though, fiduciaries fail to put in the research that is necessary to make a sound decision. In other instances, they simply choose an option that is either beneficial to them or to other associates. Therefore, it’s important to scrutinize a fiduciary’s decisions.
Find help for your estate planning and probate needs
We know that probate problems can raise a whole host of issues that can leave you feeling stressed and not knowing where to turn for help. Fortunately, skilled firms like ours stand ready to assist. So, if you’d like to learn more about what you can do to protect your interests either on the front end or after you have suspicions that the fiduciary duty has been breached, please consider researching our firm to discover what we have to offer our clients.