Rules of Construction for Trusts and Impact of Florida Law

In Florida, the intent of a settlor (the person who creates a trust) proves extremely important with respect to the handling of the trust’s assets. Florida Probate Code section 736.1101 states that “[t]he intent of the settlor as expressed in the terms of the trust controls the legal effect of the dispositions made in the trust.” Thus, according to Florida law, it is the intent “as expressed in the terms of the trust” that is the benchmark to follow. This can become an issue should any disputes arise regarding the rights of trust beneficiaries after the settlor has passed. Because the distribution of trust assets will follow the express terms of the trust itself, it is very important that the settlor clearly convey his or her intentions to the attorney who drafts the instrument. After all, once the settlor passes away, he or she can no longer amend the terms of the trust to more readily convey his or her intentions.

While the terms of a trust typically prevail over any requirement stated in the Florida Probate Code, there are a few exceptions whereby Florida law controls the construction of a trust. For instance, Florida Probate Code section 736.0105 requires that all trustees act “in good faith and in accordance with the terms and purposes of the trust and the interests of the beneficiaries.” Thus, any power that purports to allow a trustee to act in any manner, regardless of whether it is in good faith or not, will be disregarded. Moreover, section 736.0105 also states that a trust cannot have a purpose that is unlawful or contrary to public policy. The requirement for a trust to be in accordance with public policy supports section 736.1104 of the Code, which states that a beneficiary who intentionally kills the settlor of the trust is not entitled to any trust interest if said beneficiary is convicted of murder under a court of law.

The Florida Probate Code will also govern a trust’s provisions in lieu of the settlor’s intent in the event of the settlor’s divorce. Section 736.1104 of the Code states that, unless the trust provides otherwise, any provision of a revocable trust that affects the settlor’s spouse becomes void should the spouses divorce. Clearly, this section of the Code demonstrates another way in which Florida law will step in and modify the terms of the Trust. As a matter of public policy, these situations are reasonable and likely have the effect of carrying out the settlor’s intent once he or she has passed.

If you, or someone you know, live in the West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, or Miami-Dade area and wish to create a trust in order to provide for the distribution of your estate, the team at Chepenik Trushin will help you with any such estate planning needs. Please feel free to contact us for an initial first consultation.

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