Vancouver Trust Dispute Lawyers
Trusts are commonly used in estate planning to hold and protect assets for a loved one, such as a minor child. A number of disputes can arise during the life of a trust relating to the terms of the trust itself and the trustee responsible for its administration.
For over three decades, the seasoned estate litigation lawyers of Meridian Law Group have provided experienced advice and dependable legal solutions for parties to trust disputes. The firm’s skilled team advocates forcefully for the rights of trustees and beneficiaries while exploring opportunities to minimize conflict and cost.
What is a Trust?
In estate law, a trust is a legal arrangement where one party (the settlor) transfers legal title to assets or property to another person or entity (the trustee) to hold and protect for the benefit of the designated beneficiaries.
Two common types of trusts used in estate planning are living trusts (also known as inter vivos trusts) and testamentary trusts. Living trusts are created while the settlor is alive and can be changed by the settlor as desired. Testamentary trusts are often incorporated into a settlor’s Will and come into effect when the settlor dies.
Trusts are a valuable tool for estate plans as they can minimize tax liabilities upon the settlor’s death or when the trust assets are distributed to the beneficiary. Unlike Wills, trusts are not required to go through the probate court process. Trusts can be particularly attractive to high-wealth individuals as they are more private than a Will and offer more protection to shield assets from outside claims.
A trustee is a fiduciary, meaning they are held to a high standard by the law to protect the trust assets and act in the beneficiary’s best interests. Trustees have several responsibilities when administering a trust and can face substantial liability if they breach their duties.
Breach of trust claims may be brought against a trustee to recover financial losses caused by a trustee’s misconduct. Examples of circumstances that may give rise to a claim for breach of trust include:
- Misappropriation of trust assets for the trustee’s personal use;
- Making imprudent investment decisions or investing trust funds in a manner that is inconsistent with the terms of the trust;
- Failing to account for the handling of trust funds to the beneficiary/beneficiaries;
- Unreasonably delaying the administration of the trust to the detriment of the beneficiary or trust assets; or
- Allowing their personal interests to be in direct conflict with the interests of the beneficiaries.
When a court is satisfied that the trustee is not discharging their duties and the trustee’s continued administration would be to the detriment of the trust, the court may order the removal of the trustee under the Trustee Act.
Applications to Vary or Collapse a Trust
Trust disputes do not always involve the conduct of a trustee but may instead arise from a disagreement over the trust’s terms or the existence of the trust itself.
Beneficiaries or other interested parties may apply to the court to vary the terms of the trust. This may occur where the beneficiaries’ circumstances have changed to the extent that the trust requires updating.
In some circumstances, an adult beneficiary may disagree with the continued existence of the trust and may apply to the court to terminate (or “collapse”) the trust. Whether the court will order the trust’s termination depends on the circumstances. However, the common law generally requires all beneficiaries to agree and to have the capacity to manage their own financial affairs.
Challenges to the Validity of a Trust
A trust may be set aside by the court, in whole or in part, if it was not validly made. This can occur if the settlor lacked the mental capacity to create the trust or where the trust was created under duress or through undue influence exerted on the settlor.
A trustee or beneficiary may also apply to the court for direction regarding a trust if its terms are unclear or require interpretation. A trust may fail if the assets, property, or beneficiaries are not clearly identified or readily ascertainable.
Complexity of Trust Disputes
Trust disputes are legally and technically complex and require a thorough understanding of the laws governing trusts and estates in British Columbia. Mistakes made during the litigation of trust matters can prolong disputes and result in additional costs to all involved. An experienced and capable trust litigation lawyer can help parties avoid unnecessary steps in the court process and advise parties on the best course of action for the unique circumstances of their case.
Contact Meridian Law Group in Vancouver for Seasoned Representation in Trust Disputes
Meridian Law Group provides straightforward advice and effective legal solutions that deliver results and exceed client expectations on either side of a trust dispute. The firm’s estate litigators have extensive experience in several trust matters, including the defence of trustees against beneficiary claims, variation applications, and breach of trust actions. Meridian Law Group protects clients’ entitlements and rights through skilled, decisive legal action and compelling advocacy.
Meridian Law Group is known for its exceptional client-driven service and has been a touchstone of the British Columbia legal community since 1988. The firm is prominently located in the Nelson Square Building in downtown Vancouver and represents clients throughout West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Penticton, Kelowna, Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey, Langley, and White Rock. To schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced estate litigation lawyer, reach out online or call (604) 687-2277.