A Trustee’s Liability For Bad Investments

February 1, 2008 Hull & Hull LLP Estate & Trust Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

As we all know, it is not uncommon for any investor to occasionally experience a substantial decrease in the value of one of the stocks in his or her portfolio.  But what if the investor is a trustee?   

In light of the recent amendments to the Trustee Act which appear to embrace the modern portfolio theory, it will be interesting to see how the Court will utilize this theory to assess a trustee’s investment performance. Section 28 of the Trustee Act adopts an approach that is consistent with the modern portfolio theory.  Under this section, a trustee is insulated from liability if “the conduct of the trustee, which led to the loss from the trust, conformed to a plan or strategy, for the investment of the trust property, comprising reasonable assessments of risk and return that a prudent investor could adopt under comparable circumstances”.

Under the “statutory legal list” approach, which I described yesterday, a trustee was limited to investing trust assets in authorized investments.   However, with the development of the prudent investor rule, trustees are provided with a broader range of investment choices, which will likely increase their responsibility in determining an acceptable standard of care.

Presuming that a trustee is found liable for breaching the standard of care, section 29 of the Trustee Act permits a court to assess “the overall performance of the investments” when it is assessing damages.  Based on the language of section 29, it appears that a trustee may be allowed to offset the loss of a bad investment against the gain of a good investment.

The trusts and estates bar will be watching with interest to see how the judicial consideration of the prudent investor rule evolves.

Happy Super Bowl Weekend!  Go Patriots!


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