Kritchman v. Wolk

Kritchman v. Wolk, 152 So.3d 628 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014)

The decedent created a revocable trust, of which she was co-Trustee during her life with Wells Fargo.  During her life, she had the power to direct the payment of principal from her trust.  She used the trust to pay her cousin's grandson Hunter's private school tuition, and paid for his tuition plus room and board at Yale during his freshman and sophomore years. 

In April of Hunter's sophomore year at Yale, the decedent wrote a letter to Wells Fargo directing them to arrange to pay for the costs of his junior and senior year at Yale as well. Consistent with her letter, Wells paid Hunter's tuition for the fall semester of his junior year, but failed to make arrangements for the payment of his costs beyond that semester.  Wells did not pay for Hunter's tuition, room or board for his last three semesters at Yale.

The decedent passed away during Hunter's fall semester of his junior year.  Wells assured Hunter's mother that his tuition would be paid, but the decedent's son and successor co-Trustee of her trust countermanded his mother's written instructions to Wells.

Hunter filed a lawsuit against Wells and the decedent's son alleging breach of written and oral contracts, promissory estoppel and breach of trust.  His claims included both his unpaid tuition, room and board at Yale, as well as future graduate school expenses which he claimed he was entitled to under the trust.  The trial court found in favor of Hunter for his Yale tuition, room and board, reserved jurisdiction to consider future damages for graduate school expenses, and required the co-trustees to disgorge their attorneys' fees paid from the trust.

The Court held that Wells was obligated to carry out the decedent's written instructions to make arrangements to pay for Hunter's costs for his last three semesters at Yale.  It held that by not paying, Wells violated F.S. 736.0801 (duty to administer the trust in good faith), F.S. 736.0803 (duty to act impartially among the beneficiaries) and 736.0804 (duty to prudently administer the trust).  It further held that the son, as co-Trustee of the trust, was liable as a co-trustee pursuant to F.S. 736.1001(1).  Upon finding the breach, the Court held that since the trustees failed to give notice to the beneficiaries of their intent to take attorneys' fees from the trust, under F.S. 736.0802(10) they were prohibited from taking further fees and costs from the trust, and were required to refund their previous attorney's fees and costs paid to Wells from the Trust.

The Court did not agree with Hunter that his future graduate school tuition should be paid by the trust, since the trust did not include any such provision for him, nor did the written direction from the decedent.  

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