Personal representatives, executors, and trustees all have a legal obligation to act in accordance with another person or institution’s best interests. If they abuse their position for financial gain or to benefit another party, they could be accused of breaching their fiduciary duty. While this type of accusation does not necessarily lead to criminal charges or civil penalties, it could jeopardize an estate and threaten legitimate heirs’ rights to an inheritance. When you breach your fiduciary duty

Fiduciary Duty

“Fiduciary” is a legal term that refers to an individual or entity that acts on behalf of another person. Additionally, a fiduciary is someone who must advocate in the other party’s best interests, with a duty to preserve good faith and trust. A fiduciary should be honest, impartial, and willing to prioritize the needs of the greater good over conflicting personal and familial interests. Often, a fiduciary must make difficult decisions.

Fiduciary Roles

  • An estate representative
  • The executor of a will
  • A trustee

Violations of Fiduciary Duty

A breach of fiduciary duty could occur when the person responsible for resolving an estate or disbursing a trust does not act in the best interests of the decedent.

Examples of a Breach of Fiduciary Duty

  • Acting in their own self-interest by using an estate’s assets to enrich themselves or loved ones
  • Misappropriating estate assets for personal gain
  • Paying themselves an unfair or inappropriate fee to act as an executor or trustee
  • Selling assets at below-market rates
  • Making unwise investment decisions
  • Paying estate creditors without taking the time to learn whether the claims are legitimate
  • Regularly ignoring or missing court-imposed deadlines for document filings, hearings, or estate challenges
  • Neglecting the deceased person’s intent, as explained in a will, trust, or other estate planning document

When Someone Breaches Their Fiduciary Duty

If you are serving as an estate’s personal representative or a designated trustee, you are obliged to advocate for the estate’s best interests. Should a beneficiary or other interested party—such as a creditor, or presumptive heir—challenge your intent and decision-making processes, they could initiate a formal probate complaint and accuse you of violating your fiduciary duty.

How a Louisiana Succession Court Could Respond to a Complaint

  • Order you to perform certain duties, even if you believe they do not honor the decedent’s last wishes
  • Replace you with another executor
  • Demand that you vacate your position as representative or trustee
  • Mandate a reallocation of trust assets
  • Reduce your compensation

While you might believe you’re doing your best to honor a close friend or relative’s last wishes, the court could be persuaded to act against you. Under certain, limited circumstances, you can be held financially liable for any losses the petitioner claims you forced them to incur as a result of negligence, inaction, or breach of fiduciary duty.

Defending Yourself Against a Claim of Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Louisiana succession law requires that anyone alleging breach of fiduciary duty demonstrate elements of a breach.

Elements to Prove a Breach of Fiduciary Duty

  • You owe them a fiduciary duty.
  • You violated the nature of the fiduciary relationship.
  • Your violation of fiduciary duty caused financial damage that could be rectified by removing you from your position or ordering compensatory damages.

Since the prospective challenger must show evidence that you acted against the estate or trust’s best interests, the Scott Vicknair Succession Attorneys can help you defend against an unfair claim.

How Our Attorneys Can Help With an Unfair Claim

  • Argue that the beneficiary waited too long to file a challenge, having never objected to your past conduct.
  • Argue that the beneficiary had full knowledge of your actions and had, in the past, implicitly or explicitly approved of your performance.
  • Argue that the beneficiary waived their right to recourse by agreeing to terms of the will or trust.
  • Argue that your alleged misconduct resulted from an attempt to adhere to the decedent’s wishes, which may have been flawed or unintentionally ambiguous.

Contact Us Today

Even an unsuccessful accusation of breach of fiduciary duty can devastate an estate. While you might not be held personally liable for damages, you could still be obliged to use the estate’s resources to defend yourself against a challenge, depriving the heirs of the fair inheritance they deserve. 

The attorneys at Scott Vicknair have years of experience helping Louisianans protect their legacies. Please call us at 504-264-1057 to schedule a consultation and discuss your best legal options.