One of the reasons many trusts are created in the first place is to keep certain assets of the settlor out of court. Avoiding probate court and the time and expense connected with it is a major objective of many trust instruments. This does not mean, however, that courts will never have a place in adjudicating certain aspects of a trust case. So, exactly when can a Florida court get involved in the specifics of a trust that has been created?
Florida Statute 736.0201 concerns the role courts have in proceedings regarding trusts. In general, judicial proceedings involving trusts are going to be commenced when someone files a civil complaint as laid out in the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. The exception to this is an action involving construction of a testamentary trust, which goes through the probate court. The basic categories that a court will concern itself with in trust cases are the validity, distribution or administration of the trust. More specifically, a judge may be asked to review fees or accounts of the trust, determine beneficiaries or answer questions regarding construction of the trust instrument and decide whether any particular powers or duties exist under the terms of the trust.
A Florida court may also remove trustees, or appoint new ones, as well as determine the validity of all or any part of the trust instrument. The court will generally have subject matter jurisdiction over any trust that has its principal place of administration in the state of Florida. Sometimes trusts designate the principal place of administration, but the trust must have sufficient connection to the state for this designation to be valid. Basically, if the trustee resides in a state, or some part of the trust’s administration occurs in the state, the connection will be considered sufficient, according to the statute.
Trusts can be a very valuable part of a comprehensive estate plan but, as can be seen, if someone wants to challenge it, the trust could be tested in court. If you have any questions about how trusts may be used, or whether one can be challenged, you may wish to consider consulting an experienced Florida estate planning attorney.