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By: Scott Grossman on January 8th, 2024

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Understanding breach of fiduciary duty and its common examples can help you navigate financial relationships and protect your interests. In this article, we will explore what a breach of fiduciary duty means, delve into the obligations of a trustee, and provide some real-life examples of fiduciary duty breaches in California.

Trustee Fiduciary Obligations

Before diving into specific examples, let’s first understand what a fiduciary duty entails. A fiduciary is an individual or entity entrusted with the responsibility to act in the best interest of another party, known as the beneficiary. This relationship is built on trust and requires the highest loyalty, care, and good faith.

A trustee is a person appointed to manage assets or make decisions on behalf of another person or entity; fiduciary obligations are vital. Trustees are held to a high standard of conduct and have a legal and ethical duty to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries, ensuring their well-being and protecting their assets.

Some essential fiduciary obligations that trustees must uphold include:

  • Duty of Loyalty: Trustees must prioritize the interests of the beneficiaries over their interests or those of any third party.
  • Duty of Care: Trustees must exercise reasonable care, skill, and prudence when making decisions or managing assets on behalf of the beneficiaries.
  • Duty of Disclosure: Trustees must provide complete and accurate information regarding the trust administration to the beneficiaries. 

Breaching Fiduciary Duty in California

Breach of fiduciary duty is an important legal concept that individuals should be aware of, especially as they enter adulthood. Understanding this term and its examples can help navigate financial relationships and protect one’s interests. In California, a breach of fiduciary duty has serious implications. A fiduciary duty entails an individual or entity acting in the best interest of another party, known as the beneficiary. Trustees, specifically, have significant fiduciary obligations. They are appointed to manage assets or make decisions on behalf of another person or entity. They must uphold a high standard of conduct. 

Essential fiduciary obligations include:

  • The duty of loyalty: Trustees must prioritize the beneficiaries’ interests above their own or any third party.
  • The duty of care: Trustees must exercise reasonable care, skill, and prudence in decision-making and asset management.
  • The duty of disclosure: Requires trustees to provide accurate information about trust administration to beneficiaries.

Individuals must understand these obligations to protect their assets and ensure their well-being.

To learn more about trustee’s fiduciary duties, check out our article “20 ways your trustee can be breaching their fiduciary duties.” The article is a comprehensive guide to the trustee’s responsibility as a fiduciary and its obligations to the beneficiary.

Examples of breach of fiduciary duty in California include:

  1. Acting in conflict with the best interests of the beneficiaries.
  2. Demanding unreasonable compensation or attempting to profit from the fiduciary position without consent.
  3. Failing to distribute funds promptly.
  4. Failure to adequately invest or account for financial activities. 

Other examples of breach of fiduciary duty in California are:

  • Misrepresentation
  • Failure to diversify investments
  • Failure to follow instructions given by the beneficiary
  • Sharing an employer’s secrets
  • Acting in a way that benefits a competitor
  • Embezzlement
  • Failing to oblige to the employer’s requests
  • Acting negligently in assigned duties
  • Generating profit for oneself at the cost of the employer. 

To prove a breach of fiduciary duty in California, the plaintiff must demonstrate that a fiduciary relationship existed, the fiduciary breached their duty to the plaintiff, and the breach harmed the plaintiff. 

Consequences of Breaching a Fiduciary Duty

Further, when trustees breach their duties, they may face various consequences. This includes:

  1. Personal Liability: The trustee may be liable for any losses the trust beneficiaries suffer due to the breach. 
  2. Removal from Position: Beneficiaries may be able to have the trustee removed from their position and replaced with another trustee. 
  3. Monetary and Non-Monetary Damages: A breach of trust can lead to financial or non-monetary damages for the beneficiaries. 
  4. Legal Action: The trustee could face legal action, court expenses, and attorney fees. 

Some common examples of trustee breaches of duty include self-dealing, negligence, imprudent investments, and failure to distribute trust income. Trustees need to fulfill their responsibilities and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries to avoid these consequences. 

What is the next phase if your trustee breached their fiduciary duty?

If a trustee has breached their fiduciary duty in California, the affected party can take the following steps:

  1. Seek Legal Advice: It is advisable to consult with an experienced attorney who specializes in trust and estate law to understand the options available and the best course of action. 
  2. File a Lawsuit: The affected party may file a lawsuit against the trustee for breach of fiduciary duty. To win the case, they must prove the existence of a fiduciary relationship, the breach of duty, and the harm caused. 
  3. Recover Damages: If the breach is proven, the court may order the trustee to pay compensatory damages to restore any losses suffered by the beneficiaries. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. 
  4. Prevent Further Breaches: The court may issue orders to prevent the trustee from taking any further actions that would constitute a breach of their duties. 
  5. Open Communication: The trustee needs to communicate openly and honestly with the beneficiaries and other involved parties to address the breach and work towards a resolution.

In California, a breach of fiduciary duty occurs when a trustee acts in their interest rather than in the best interest of the beneficiaries, violates loyalty or care or causes harm due to non-disclosure of vital information. The consequences of such breaches can be severe, including legal action, financial penalties, and potential removal from the fiduciary position.

More on your Trustee Breaching their Fiduciary Duty

Need more information on Trust Litigation? To ensure they follow their fiduciary duties, check out our complete overview of California Trust Litigation on our website. If you have more questions about your rights as a Beneficiary and what you should know moving forward. 

If you are still having some trouble, have any more questions, or want to talk to someone about your case, please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form below.

It’s best to reach out as soon as possible. The longer you take, the more damage your trust could take. Please call us at (888) 443-6590, and we would be more than happy to see if we can assist you.