Trustee Discretion in Breach of Trust Claims

“A violation by a trustee of a duty the trustee owes to beneficiary is a breach of trust.” Section 456.10-1001, RSMo. Despite this broad statutory principle, and depending on the context, a trustee can have a number of defenses to a breach of trust claim.

For example, where a trust instrument grants a trustee discretionary authority, courts will not interfere absent an abuse by the trustee. Oksner v. Jaco, 646 S.W.2d 385, 386-87 (Mo. Ct. App. 1983). “Where discretion is conferred upon the trustee with respect to the exercise of a power, its exercise is not subject to control by the court, except to prevent an abuse by the trustee of his [or her] discretion.” Bolles v. Boatmen’s Nat’l Bank of St. Louis, 255 S.W.2d 725, 732 (Mo. 1953).

Accordingly, in trust litigation involving breach of trust claims, it is extremely important to ascertain whether the claimed wrongdoing by the trustee involves a mandatory duty or a trustee’s discretionary act.

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