PROBATE CORNER

By: David M. Garten, Esq.

ARTICLE: Standing To Sue For Trust Revocation And Breach Of Trust

In Cates v. Cmty. Bank & Trust of Fla., 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 12273; 44 Fla. L. Weekly D 2037; 2019 WL 3755444 (Fla. 5th DCA August 9, 2019), the decedent died leaving the majority of his assets to charity. The decedent’s two children brought an action to invalidate their father’s will and trust alleging that he lacked testamentary capacity. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the trustee served the children with a trust accounting. In response, the children sued the trustee for mismanagement of the trust. The trustee moved to dismiss the breach of trust complaint asserting that the children lacked standing to sue because they were not named beneficiaries of the trust and they merely had a hypothetical interest based on “uncertain future events” (i.e., invalidating their father’s will and trust). The trial court granted the trustee’s motion to dismiss with prejudice and the appellate court reversed. The court reasoned that the children were interested persons under §731.201(23), F.S. (i.e., a person who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding involved) and had standing to sue the trustee for actions taken in administering the trust because their potential inheritance is an interest that will be affected by the trustee’s management of the trust.

In addition, the trustee argued that by filing the invalidation action, the children disclaimed their interests under the trust and have renounced any entitlement to their father’s estate, citing Carman v. Gilbert, 641 So. 2d 1323 (Fla. 1994) (holding that renunciation of beneficial interest is condition to contesting will but such renunciation is qualified rather than absolute). The court rejected this argument because the children do not claim to have standing based on the Trust. Instead, they claim to have standing as interested persons based on the possibility that they will inherit the estate under a previous will or the law of intestacy.

Finally, the court cited to the following estate cases as persuasive authority for its decision: Estate of Brock, 695 So. 2d 714 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) (the decedent’s disinherited son contesting his father’s will was an “interested person” and had standing to contest the charges against his father’s estate for compensation of professionals) and Agee v. Brown, 73 So. 3d 882 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (the beneficiary under prior will had standing to seek revocation of probate of testator’s will).