You may not realize it, but when you agree to become someone’s Pennsylvania estate executor or the trustee of his or her trust, you also agree to become a fiduciary. What this means, as FindLaw explains, is that you agree to put the interests of the heirs and/or beneficiaries above everything else, including your own interests.
Obviously, becoming a fiduciary entails a great deal of responsibility. But do not panic. If you make an inadvertent mistake while managing the estate or trust, this does not constitute a breach of your fiduciary duties. Only a deliberate act on your part that works to the detriment of the heirs and/or beneficiaries falls under the heading of fiduciary breach.
Fiduciary breach examples
While numerous examples of fiduciary breach exist, most of them arise from one of the following:
- You knowingly and deliberately put your own interests above those of the heirs and/or beneficiaries.
- You knowingly and deliberately give the heirs and/or beneficiaries information that is false, inadequate or misleading.
- You knowingly and deliberately do something that causes a loss to the estate, the trust, or the heirs and/or beneficiaries themselves.
Fiduciary breach proof
Should an heir or beneficiary sue you for breach of fiduciary duty, (s)he will have to prove all four of the following things:
- That the will specifically named you as executor or that the trust specifically named you as trustee
- That the document set forth which duties you must perform as the fiduciary
- That you knowingly and deliberately did something else instead
- That due to your breach, the plaintiff suffered monetary damages
If the plaintiff prevails in his or her lawsuit, the jury undoubtedly will require that you pay restitution to the plaintiff in the amount of his or her damages. It may also require that you pay interest on that amount from the date of your breach. The possibility even exists that if the jury finds that your action(s) represented particularly egregious ones, it will assess punitive damages against you.
This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.