New Florida legislation expressly authorizes mandatory arbitration clauses in wills and trusts

Effective July 1, 2007, Florida adopted legislation expressly authorizing mandatory arbitration clauses in wills and trusts.  The new statute provides as follows:

731.401 Arbitration of disputes.--

(1) A provision in a will or trust requiring the arbitration of disputes, other than disputes of the validity of all or a part of a will or trust, between or among the beneficiaries and a fiduciary under the will or trust, or any combination of such persons or entities, is enforceable.

(2) Unless otherwise specified in the will or trust, a will or trust provision requiring arbitration shall be presumed to require binding arbitration under s. 44.104.

Two of the Florida attorneys instrumental in passage of the new legislation, Bruce M. Stone and Robert W. Goldman, also co-authored a 2005 ACTEC article discussing mandatory arbitration clauses in wills and trusts entitled Resolving Disputes with Ease and Grace.  The ACTEC article does a good job of summarizing the pros and cons of arbitration, concluding that arbitration is likely "ideal" in the following circumstances:

  1. Fee disputes, including fiduciary and legalfees
  2. Prudent investing disputes
  3. Document construction
  4. Principal and income disputes, includingadjustment powers
  5. Trust terminations or severances
  6. Accounting disputes
  7. Declaratory relief in general

This list of "ideal" abritration senarios implicitly recognizes that arbitration is NOT the best solution for resolving ALL disputes, a view I share and have written about [click here].

Sample arbitation clauses:

Sample clauses are often the best way to understand in concrete terms how a general concept may be applied in the real world.  Note that all of the sample clauses do two things:

  • require arbitration; and
  • define the procedural rules that would govern the arbitation proceeding (for example, who appoints the arbitrator, how many arbitrators are required, what are the discovery rules, etc). 

Under the new Florida arbitration statute, if the settlor does not identify  the procdural rules he or she would like to apply the default rules are provided by F.S. 44.104.

The AAA's website [click here] provides specific procedural rules for arbitrating such wills-and-trusts claims and the following sample arbitration clause:

AAA Standard Arbitration Clause:

In order to save the cost of court proceedings and promote the prompt and final resolution of any dispute regarding the interpretation of my will (or my trust) or the administration of my estate or any trust under my will (or my trust), I direct that any such dispute shall be settled by arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association under its Arbitration Rules for Wills and Trusts then in effect. Nevertheless the following matters shall not be arbitrable questions regarding my competency, attempts to remove a fiduciary, or questions concerning the amount of bond of a fiduciary. In addition, arbitration may be waived by all sui juris parties in interest.

The arbitrator(s) shall be a practicing lawyer licensed to practice law in the state whose laws govern my will (or my trust) and whose practice has been devoted primarily to wills and trusts for at least ten years. The arbitrator(s) shall apply the substantive law (and the law of remedies, if applicable) of the state whose laws govern my will (or my trust). The arbitrator's decision shall not be appealable to any court, but shall be final and binding on any and all persons who have or may have an interest in my estate or any trust under my will (or my trust), including unborn or incapacitated persons, such as minors or incompetents. Judgment on the arbitrator's award may be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof.

The authors of Resolving Disputes with Ease and Grace also provided four sample arbitration clauses, including the following two:

Generic provision—Short version:

It is my hope and expectation that there will be no dispute in relation to this Trust [my estate]. Nevertheless, if there is any dispute or controversy among any of the Trustee [personal representative] and the beneficiaries involving any aspect of this Trust [my estate] or its administration, the parties to the dispute may agree on the manner of resolution. If there is no such agreement, the disputing parties shall submit the matter to mediation, and, if unresolved by mediation, to binding arbitration. If a party to the dispute fails to participate in good faith in the mediation or arbitration, the arbitrator or the court having jurisdiction over this trust [my estate] is authorized to award costs and attorney’s fees from that party’s beneficial share or from other amounts payable to that party (including amounts payable to that party as compensation for services as a fiduciary).

Generic provision—Long version with forfeiture clause:

[Comment: As with other language in these sample clauses, the forfeiture provision in paragraph (c) below has not been tested in the courts. Assuming that a mandatory arbitration provision in a will or trust is otherwise enforceable in a given jurisdiction, it is believed that a forfeiture provision is likely to be enforceable also, including in jurisdictions that do not recognize the validity of no-contest provisions.]

(a) It is my hope and expectation that there will be no dispute in relation to this Trust [my estate]. Nevertheless, if there is any dispute or controversy among any of the Trustee [personal representative] and the beneficiaries involving any aspect of this Trust [my estate] or its administration, the parties to the dispute may agree on the manner of resolution. If there is no such agreement, the disputing parties shall submit the matter to mediation, and, if unresolved by mediation, to binding arbitration. If the parties are unable to agree on the selection of a mediator or arbitrator, the court having jurisdiction over this Trust [my estate] shall select the mediator or arbitrator. [The mediator or arbitrator shall have the following qualifications: ACTEC fellow; attorney with at least 10 years’ experience in trusts and estates; etc.]

(b) In the case of arbitration, the arbitrator shall establish the procedure for arbitrating the matter or matters and recognizing the goals of privacy, efficiency, less formality than in a judicial tribunal, and less expense than might be incurred in a judicial forum, while reaching a fair result. The decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding on the Trustee [Executor], all beneficiaries, and their heirs, successors, and assigns. If the arbitrator determines that a guardian ad litem is needed to represent the interests of unborn, unascertained, or incapacitated interested persons, a guardian ad litem shall be appointed by the court having jurisdiction over this Trust [my estate].

(c) If a disputing beneficiary fails to participate in good faith in the agreed-on procedure for resolution, or in the mediation or arbitration if there is no such agreement, the disputing beneficiary’s interest in this Trust [my estate] shall be forfeited and the beneficiary, if an individual, shall be treated as having predeceased the Settlor [me] [with no surviving issue]. If for any reason it is determined by the court having jurisdiction over this Trust [my estate] that the foregoing provision for forfeiture is not effective, the arbitrator or the court having jurisdiction over this trust [my estate] is authorized to award costs and attorney’s fees from the beneficiary’s share or from other amounts payable to the beneficiary.

(d) The provisions of subparagraph (c) above shall not apply to the beneficial interests of:

(1) the Settlor’s [my] spouse, to the extent that his [her] interest would otherwise qualify for an estate or gift tax marital deduction;

(2) any beneficiary, to the extent that the beneficial interest would otherwise qualify for an income, gift, or estate tax deduction for charitable purposes unless and until all such charitable beneficial interests have expired.

If, however, the Settlor’s [my] spouse or any such beneficiary who is a disputing beneficiary to whom the above forfeiture provisions do not apply nevertheless fails to participate in good faith in the agreed-on procedure for resolution or in the mediation or arbitration, the arbitrator or the court having jurisdiction over this trust [my estate] is authorized to award costs and attorney’s fees from his, her, or its beneficial share.

(e) The acceptance of the Trust by any trustee or co-trustee constitutes the trustee’s or co-trustee’s agreement to comply with the above provisions. If a trustee or co-trustee is a party to a dispute and fails to participate in good faith in the agreed-on procedure for resolution or in the mediation or arbitration, it shall be deemed that the trustee or co-trustee has breached its fiduciary duties and has resigned, and the court having jurisdiction over this Trust is authorized to surcharge the trustee or co-trustee for costs, attorney’s fees, and any other sums deemed appropriate. [The personal representative’s consent to act constitutes his, her, or its agreement to comply with the above provisions. If a personal representative is a party to a dispute and fails to participate in good faith in the agreed-on procedure for resolution or in the mediation or arbitration, it shall be deemed that the personal representative has breached his, her, or its fiduciary duties and has resigned, and the court having jurisdiction over my estate is authorized to surcharge the personal representative for costs, attorney’s fees, and any other sums deemed appropriate.]

(f) If the validity of these provisions requiring arbitration is contested, the court having jurisdiction over this Trust [my estate] shall resolve that issue prior to resolution of the balance of the dispute. If the arbitration provisions are determined to be valid, the balance of the disputed issues shall be resolved as provided in this Article __.

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