Probate

Corya v. Sanders- Florida Law Requires Trustees To Provide Annual Accounting!

probate

In this case, ongoing disputes as to four family trusts make a second appearance before us. In the first appeal, we reversed the trial court’s summary judgment granting trust accountings for all four trusts. Corya v. Sanders, 76 So.3d 31 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011). We concluded the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in part because appellee Sanders did not sufficiently negate the defenses of laches, waiver, and estoppel. Id. at 34. As to two of the trusts, we also concluded that the record did not establish, for purposes of summary judgment, that the contesting beneficiary was entitled to accountings prior to 2007. Id. Upon remand, a nonjury trial was conducted.

In this appeal, appellants, Doris Corya and Paul J. Rich Sanders (collectively, “Corya“),[2] as trustees, raise several arguments of trial court error. Roy Sanders (“Sanders”), the appellee and contesting beneficiary, is Doris’s son and Paul’s brother. We agree with Corya that the trial court erred by (1) determining that the affirmative defense of statutory laches did not limit the years to which Sanders is entitled to an annual accounting for each trust; (2) incorrectly interpreting statutory provisions in deciding the starting date for each accounting; and (3) incorrectly applying case law in deciding the starting date for each accounting. For those reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings. Because we reverse on significant issues affecting entitlement to attorney’s fees, we also reverse and remand the trial court rulings on attorney’s fees for further consideration.

As described above, all four trusts are irrevocable and have been in effect for decades before suit was filed. It is undisputed that before suit was filed, Corya had not prepared accountings for any of the trusts. At trial and on appeal, Corya agreed she was required to provide annual accountings to the beneficiaries as of July 1, 2007, the effective date of section 736.0813(1)(d), Florida Statutes (2007), which provides:

Duty to inform and account. — The trustee shall keep the qualified beneficiaries of the trust reasonably informed of the trust and its administration.

As to each trust, the trial court ordered accountings from the inception of the trust. It appears from the judgment that the trial court accepted Sanders’s arguments that accountings from inception were appropriate based on (1) an interpretation of sections 736.0813(1)(d) and 736.08135(1), Florida Statutes (2007), and (2) misconduct by Corya as trustee, citing Mesler v. Holly, 318 So.2d 530 (Fla. 2d DCA 1975). We address each argument in turn.

Sections 736.0813(1)(d) and 736.08135(1)

At the beginning of the judgment, the trial court listed the issues to be tried. One of the issues listed was:

Whether Florida Statute Section 736.0813, formerly Florida Statute Section 733.035, limits the accountings to a period beginning on or after January 1, 2003.[[9]]

Section 736.0813 incorporates by reference section 736.08135(1), Florida Statutes 1287*1287 (2007). In reference to the John Corya Irrevocable Trust, the trial court ruled “the accounting should go back to when [Corya] became accountable, which would be the inception of the trust,” citing section 736.08135(1), Florida Statutes (2007). It appears the trial court may have implicitly reached the same conclusion as to the other three trusts.

As discussed above, section 736.0813(1)(d) provides that a beneficiary is entitled to a trust accounting “annually,” “as set forth in s. 736.08135.” Section 736.08135(1), Florida Statutes, provides:

(1) A trust accounting must be a reasonably understandable report from the date of the last accounting or, if none, from the date on which the trustee became accountable, that adequately discloses the information required in subsection (2).

(emphasis added). Because accountings had never been prepared for any of the trusts, the trial court concluded Corya was statutorily required to start the accountings for each trust from the dates Corya became trustee, which was the inception of each trust. However, the trial court erred because, as discussed above, the trial court failed to properly apply the laches defense, which limits the duty to account to no earlier than four years prior to the date suit was filed, and because another subsection of section 736.08135, subsection (3), does not require accountings prior to January 1, 2003.

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