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By: Scott Grossman on May 30th, 2016

Trustees Must Be Aware of the Standards of Proof Against Them

Carrying out the administration of a trust requires a lot of work from the trustees. Unfortunately, these obligations must be handled carefully or the trustee may put themselves at risk of potential liability. When an action against a trustee is pursued, it’s important for the trustee to understand applicable legal standards.

Understanding the Standards of Proof in a Litigation Matter

Standards of proof are an important aspect of any legal matter.  The following is an overview of the types of standards of proof:

  1. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard of proof applies in criminal matters. This is the highest standard of proof in our judicial system. A person is innocent until proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
  2. Clear and convincing evidence. This standard of proof applies in some civil matters. There is usually a 75% chance clear and convincing evidence is true.
  3. Preponderance of evidence. This standard of proof is the lowest standard used in our judicial system. It means there is more than a 50% chance that what is being alleged is true. This lower standard of proof is used in legal action brought against a trustee.

Consequently, the preponderance of evidence is the easiest standard for a plaintiff to satisfy, and plaintiff to win. A case argued before a jury is more likely to succeed, because the jury doesn’t have to be fully convinced of the trustee’s wrongdoing. Instead, the jury must believe it’s more likely than not that the trustee engaged in wrongdoing to reach a finding against them.

No Presumption of Innocence for Trustees Accused of Breach of Trust

In addition to understanding the differences in the standards of proof and how they apply to trustees, it is also important to recognize that there are different legal presumptions that exist in our court system. One example of a legal presumption applies to alleged crimes. In these situations, an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This means they’re treated as innocent until the state proves all elements of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Trustees, however, face a different type of legal presumption. In an action brought against a trustee, the legal presumption is not in favor of the trustee. This legal presumption against the trustee exists because trustees owe a special duty to the beneficiaries of the trust.

Since the standard of proof is low and the legal presumptions are not in their favor, trustees must be very careful when carrying out the administration of a trust. Trustees are wise to seek legal representation from an experienced professional. We have assisted many trustees in both the administration of trusts as well as trust litigation matters. We encourage you to learn more by checking out our client testimonials today.

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