December 16, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trust Beneficiaries Can Recover for Breach of Fiduciary Duty Owed to Settlor

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In the Matter of Donald C. Taylor and Margaret Ann Taylor Trust on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

Revocable Trust—Fiduciary Duty—Breach—Standing—Attorney Fees—Exception to American Rule.

Donald and Margaret Ann Taylor were married to each other. They each had children from prior marriages: defendant is Donald’s son, and plaintiff and intervenor (plaintiffs) are Margaret Ann’s children. Donald and Margaret Ann created a revocable trust, the primary purpose of which was to benefit whichever spouse survived the other. Upon the death of the surviving spouse, half of the trust’s remaining assets were to be distributed to Donald’s children, with the other half going to Margaret Ann’s children. Donald and Margaret Ann also each had investment accounts, which would pass to only their respective children upon death. Upon Donald’s death, defendant became co-trustee with Margaret Ann. Shortly before her death, Margaret Ann, at defendant’s urging, transferred into the trust monies that she had separately placed in her investment accounts and designated as payable upon death only to her children. A jury found that defendant had breached his fiduciary duty. The court entered judgment and awarded attorney fees to plaintiffs.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erroneously allowed plaintiffs to recover damages when there was no evidence of a breach of fiduciary duty to Margaret Ann. Because plaintiffs here alleged an injury-in-fact to a legally protected interest, they had standing to assert the breach of fiduciary claims. Therefore, plaintiffs could pursue a claim for a breach of fiduciary duty that proved harmful to them, even though the duty was owed to Margaret Ann.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in awarding plaintiffs attorney fees under C.R.S. § 15-10-504(2). Here, the jury determined that defendant had breached a fiduciary duty owed to Margaret Ann and the undisputed evidence was that defendant was a trustee, Margaret Ann was a trust beneficiary, and defendant and his siblings stood to personally gain by the inclusion of the challenged property in the trust. Under these circumstances, the requirements for recovery of attorney fees under the breach of trust exception to the American Rule are satisfied.

The judgment and order awarding attorney fees were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.