Being a trustee of a trust can be perilous, with trustees facing potential personal liability should they make the wrong decision. As a safeguard against such potential liability, when issues arise in the administration of a trust, trustees may consider commencing an Application for the opinion, advice or direction of the court in accordance with the Trustee Act. Section 60(1) of the Trustee Act provides:
“A trustee, guardian or personal representative may, without the institution of an action, apply to the Superior Court of Justice for the opinion, advice or direction of the court on any question respecting the management or administration of the trust property or the asserts of a ward or a testator or intestate.”
Should the court accept such an Application, and provide the trustees with directions regarding the issue, the trustees are insulated from liability as it relates to the beneficiaries regarding such an issue so long as they act in accordance with the directions of the court. This is made clear by section 60(2) of the Trustee Act, which provides:
“The trustee, guardian or personal representative acting upon the opinion, advice or direction given shall be deemed, so far as regards that person’s responsibility, to have discharged that person’s duty as such trustee, guardian or personal representative, in the subject-matter of the application, unless that person has been guilty of some fraud, wilful concealment or misrepresentation in obtaining such opinion, advice or direction.”
Notably, while section 60(1) of the Trustee Act allows trustees to direct a specific issue for the “opinion, advice or direction” of the court, the court has been clear that on such an Application the court will not exercise discretionary decisions on behalf of the trustees. Such a point was recently made clear by Justice Broad in Keller v. Wilson, where at paragraph 25 the court states:
“The fact that trustees are expressly permitted by the Trustee Act to apply for the opinion advice or direction of the Court does not authorize the court to exercise discretionary powers on behalf of trustees, thereby shifting responsibility from the trustees, on whom the settlor of the trust placed such responsibility, to the court. This is so even though subsection 60(2) of the Trustee Act provides a specific indemnification to trustees who act upon the opinion, advice or direction of the court.” [emphasis added]
Cases like Keller v. Wilson make it clear that on an Application for opinion, advice, or direction, the court will not exercise discretionary decisions on behalf of the trustee, with their jurisdiction to provide directions being limited to questions of a “legal” nature relating to the discharging of the trustees’ duties. To this effect, the court’s direction can be thought of the court advising whether the trustee “can” not “should” do a particular action. While the court will advise whether the trustee has the legal authority to do a particular action, they will not make such a discretionary decision on behalf of the trustee.
Thank you for reading.