People call our Dallas, Texas, trust attorneys’ law office all the time with questions as to the interpretation of a trust they are involved in which the “intent” is ambiguous. The following informative blog post by one of our top Dallas trust attorneys dives into the issue of intent. If you have questions regarding disputing a trust or even trust litigation, reach out to us for a free consultation on your trust litigation issues throughout the Dallas, Texas, area.
~ Editor’s Note
Avoiding Trust Litigation – Focus on Intent
In most estate plans involving trusts, the client’s desires, objectives and goals are naturally more reaching and long-term. After all, if a simple transfer of the client’s property were the limit of the plan, estate planners might only advise the use of tools that are often much simpler, like a deed or a basic Last Will and Testament. At this point in the planning spectrum, our client often has objectives that outrun some basic estate planning.
Intent is the primary element that binds trusts of all kinds across our country. To virtually every question that a Trustee could ask himself, the Settlor’s intent provides the key to the answer. As a general rule, the primary focus in interpreting provisions of a trust either by the Trustee or the court, is the Settlor’s intent, embodied by the actual language used in the Trust instrument.
Discovering the intent of the Settlor is often a product of extensive discussions between the Settlor and his or her planning attorney. Specific attention should be paid to not only hearing what is said, clarifying and synthesizing the goals, but an equal amount of attention must be given to breathing life to those goals by using the Trust instrument. Ambiguity in a Trust instrument is always problematic, generates expensive, divisive and time-consuming litigation and can even prove fatal to the Settlor’s intentions.
Where the language of the Trust is clear and unambiguous, the Trustee’s powers are conferred by that instrument, and only few things can add to or take away from that conferred authority. In those circumstances where the Trust language is ambiguous, the Trustee is compelled to look to a variety of circumstances and governmental interpretation to know how to act – to find that intent. Some additional circumstances that such a Trustee might have to look to include:
- Behavior of the Settlor during his or her lifetime. How did the Settlor treat the Trust beneficiaries while he or she was alive? Was he consistently generous? Pragmatically guarded?
- Cohesion with the overall plan. Is the Trust the only element of the Settlor’s estate plan? Were multiple Trusts created for the same beneficiary, such that each was designed to accomplish separate goals?
- Genesis of the Trust. Were there specific circumstances that lead to the creation of the Trust? How adequate are the drafting attorney’s notes when illustrating the specific concerns and objectives of the Settlor? Was an incapacitated beneficiary a reality, or did the Settlor anticipate the onset of incapacity?
Editor’s Summary: Trust Litigation Issues ~ Dallas, Texas
If you are unsure about issues involving a trust, it’s wise to seek out the advice of experienced probate and trust attorneys, such as our trust and trust litigation attorneys working in our Dallas, Texas, law firm. Our attorneys can review the available trust documents, advise you on disputing a trust under Texas law, and even assist with trust litigation if the need should arise. Whatever your issues are vis-a-vis a trust, contact our Dallas office today for a free consultation on your specific trust or trust litigation matters. Our office is conveniently located in North Dallas, so if you are in nearby cities such as Plano, Richardson, or Farmers Branch, a free consultation on your trust is just an easy phone call or drive away.