Breach of Fiduciary Duty in Estate Matters

At Patrick, Harper, & Dixon, you can seek legal aid from an experienced estate planning lawyer. Since 1946, we have been offering help to those in need of estate planning guidance throughout the city of Hickory, North Carolina.

If you are dealing with a breach of fiduciary duty, you may be entitled to damages, and when you turn to attorneys like us, you can receive the help you need during such difficult times. Contact our team today for more information and to set up a consultation. 

Understanding Breach of Fiduciary Duty

An individual’s fiduciary duty is a legal obligation to focus solely on the best interests of another when making decisions. In such a relationship, the fiduciary is the person who is ethically and legally bound by these duties, and in the case of estate planning, fiduciaries can be executors for wills and trustees for trusts. 

In any case, individuals who offer estate planning services must put the interests of the estate, its beneficiaries and heirs, and the trust before their own, even if the trustee is a beneficiary themselves. Therefore, a breach of fiduciary duty refers to the violation of some obligation imposed on the fiduciary, such as an action that is against the law or one that is unethical. 

Some of the most common types of breaches of fiduciary duty in estate planning include the following:

  • Disloyalty to beneficiaries 
  • Theft, conversion, or fraud
  • Self-dealing (e.g., granting estate property to themselves)
  • Conflict(s) of interest
  • Misusing or stealing property that belongs to estate heirs
  • Colluding with some beneficiaries against others
  • Displaying disloyalty to beneficiaries 
  • Favoring one beneficiary over others
  • Poor judgment

If you, as a beneficiary, know that the fiduciary has breached their fiduciary duty, you can file a lawsuit to have them removed and replaced; it is also possible to hold the fiduciary liable for damages. 

Elements of a Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim

There are four essential elements necessary to give you a chance to win a claim regarding another’s breach of fiduciary duty:

First, you must be able to prove that a legal fiduciary duty existed in the first place. The majority of professionals working within the field of estate planning must conduct their businesses ethically and lawfully, but all of them do not necessarily have a fiduciary duty. Most fiduciaries take on their duties in writing, and that’s how you can prove that they accepted the charge of working in the interest of the beneficiaries.  

Secondly, you also have to prove that a breach occurred, and alongside that, you have to prove that the breach resulted in damages. If no damages were caused, it is not likely that there is enough to file a breach of fiduciary duty claim. For example, you may accuse a trustee of selling property significantly under its real value, but you must be able to provide a detailed description of how that action harmed you and what its repercussions are. 

Lastly, it is important to demonstrate causation, which proves that any damages you sustained were a direct consequence of the breach of fiduciary duty. Causation isn’t always easy to prove, which is why having attorneys with experience in estate planning law guiding you through the process is essential. 

How Patrick, Harper, & Dixon Can Help You 

At Patrick, Harper, & Dixon, we can assist you in holding the fiduciary liable if they are in breach of their fiduciary duty. It’s important that you retain such help quickly, too, as North Carolina has a statute of limitations — three years for breach of fiduciary duty cases. The sooner you get started, the better the potential outcome of your case. 

You may be able to claim monetary damages, which return the heir or beneficiary to the financial position they would have been in had the fiduciary not breached their duty, but we can also help you file an injunction, which limits the executor or trustee’s actions or forces them to perform some duty; it is a temporary means of preventing more significant financial loss. 

Another option you have is to file to have the fiduciary removed from their role in managing the estate or trust. In cases when the fiduciary breached their duty by unlawfully transferring property to themselves, we can help transfer that property back to the beneficiaries or heirs. 

Contact Our Experienced Estate Litigation Lawyers in North Carolina

Estate planning is a complex process, and it requires having people you trust managing trusts and estates. If your fiduciary has breached their duty, it is possible to receive damages for everything that the beach may have caused. 

At Patrick, Harper, & Dixon, our team of lawyers is ready to offer help with any challenges you face in estate planning. We have years of experience helping clients who are struggling with the consequences of a breach of fiduciary duty, and we are ready to help you, too, so don’t wait to get the representation you deserve. Call our team today to get started with filing your claim.