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California Prudent Investor Rule for Trustees in Litigation

The California Prudent Investor Rule is a critical legal standard that governs the conduct of trustees in managing trust assets. This rule, which is rooted in the principles of fiduciary duty and prudent investment practices, serves as a benchmark for trust litigation attorneys in California when assessing the performance of trustees.

By adhering to the prudent investor rule, trustees are expected to exercise sound judgment, diversify investments, and act in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. As such, trust litigation attorneys play a vital role in ensuring that trustees comply with this rule and are held accountable for any breaches of their fiduciary duties.

What Is the Prudent Investor Rule?


The prudent investor rule states that fiduciaries must act with prudence, skill, and diligence when managing the assets of their clients, taking into account the overall investment strategy and the best interests of the beneficiaries.

This rule is based on the 1992 Uniform Prudent Investor Act (UPIA), which provides a comprehensive legal framework for a trustee’s duties and obligations. Its guidelines are formed from a legal principle called the “prudent man rule,” also called the “prudent person rule.”

While it doesn’t outline specific investment choices, the prudent man rule requires that a fiduciary exercise sound discretion when giving investment advice and manage trust assets as they would their own affairs. Furthermore, fiduciaries must not only evaluate individual investments but also consider the overall composition of the portfolio and its ability to meet the long-term objectives of each beneficiary.

How Does the California Uniform Prudent Investor Act Work?

In 1995, California enacted the California Uniform Prudent Investor Act. Closely following the national UPIA, this act is based on the principles of modern portfolio theory, which means that trustees are required to exercise reasonable care, skill, and caution when making investment decisions, considering both the potential for return and the risk of loss.

Trustees must carefully consider the following when making an investment decision:

  • General economic conditions and risk management best practices
  • The possible effect of inflation or deflation
  • The expected tax consequences of investment decisions or strategies
  • The role that each investment or course of action plays within the overall trust portfolio
  • The expected total return from income and the appreciation of capital
  • Other resources of the beneficiaries known to the trustee
  • Needs for liquidity, regularity of income, and preservation or appreciation of capital
  • An asset’s special relationship or special value, if any, to the purposes of the trust or to one or more of the beneficiaries

These fiduciary responsibilities must be carried out on an ongoing basis, and prudent investors have a continuing responsibility to actively review and adjust the trust investments.

Prudent Investor Rule and Trust Management  Prudent Investor Rule and Trust Management

In the realm of trust management, the prudent investor rule plays a crucial role in guiding financial advisors and trustees in their decision-making.

As fiduciaries, these professionals are legally and ethically obligated to act in the best interests of their clients, which includes making investment decisions that are consistent with the principles of prudent investing. This entails carefully evaluating the risk and return characteristics of various investment options in line with modern portfolio theory, as well as considering the potential impact of these choices on the overall performance of the client’s entire portfolio.

One of the key tenets of the prudent investor rule is the importance of diversification in fiduciary investing. By spreading investments across a range of asset classes and sectors, financial advisors can help to mitigate the risk associated with market volatility and economic downturns while still pursuing a reasonable rate of return.

This approach to investment is particularly important in the context of trust management, as trustees are often responsible for preserving and growing the assets of their clients over an extended period of time.

In addition to reducing risk through diversification, the prudent investor rule also emphasizes the need for financial advisors to consider the costs associated with individual investments, as well as the potential tax implications of their decisions. By carefully weighing these factors, fiduciaries can help to ensure that a particular trust is managed in a manner that is both cost-effective and tax-efficient.

What if a Trustee Takes Unreasonable Risks?

A trustee assumes the role of managing the trust’s assets and may receive compensation for their services. In fulfilling their fiduciary duties, trustees are expected to adhere to the prudent investment rule. Sometimes, a trustee may take unreasonable risks, leading to severe consequences for the trust and its beneficiaries.

When allegations arise regarding a trustee’s misconduct, such as theft, breach of duty, negligence, or fraud, it is essential to seek guidance from an experienced trust attorney. Unreasonable risks taken by a trustee who does not follow the prudent man rule can result in significant financial losses for the trust, jeopardizing the financial security of the beneficiaries. In such cases, the trustee may be held personally liable for the losses incurred due to their negligence or breach of duty.

A beneficiary must be vigilant in monitoring the actions of the trustee and should not hesitate to seek legal counsel if they suspect any misconduct or mismanagement of the trust assets.

Example of Prudent Investor Rule in California

Example of Prudent Investor Rule in California

For a hypothetical example of how the prudent investor rule in California might work, we’ll introduce Bill, a self-proclaimed financial expert who wears many hats but lacks the credentials of a lawyer, CPA, or recognized investment professional.

Bill markets his services under various names and positions himself as an all-in-one solution for tax preparation, estate planning advice, and annuity sales. His friendly demeanor makes him seem trustworthy, leading unsuspecting individuals to transfer their investments to him without conducting due diligence.

Some encounter Bill at seminars, where he convinces people to place their pension funds or other assets in irrevocable trusts, with himself as the trustee, promising tax benefits. However, once the trust is established, Bill gains control over the assets and exploits the situation. He may even borrow against properties titled in his name as trustee, depleting homeowners’ equity.

Bill also entices individuals with the opportunity to invest in his so-called hedge fund, boasting incredible returns and providing impressive financial statements. However, when investors ask for their money, Bill offers excuses and delays, claiming their investments are tied up in lucrative ventures. He continually seeks new investors and may offer finder’s fees to those who refer family or friends.

Claire’s elderly parents have invested their retirement fund with Bill, but they have not seen any returns from Bill’s investment program. Claire suspects investment fraud and reports it to local law enforcement. However, the police say it is a civil matter.

Claire and her parents take legal action, claiming that Bill violated the prudent investor rule. However, Bill employs various tactics to delay and drain the resources of those seeking justice. He avoids being served, files motions, fails to comply with discovery requests, and hires and fires attorneys to prolong the process.

Though some fraud cases against individuals like Bill result in satisfactory outcomes, the path to justice is often arduous. Victims may feel ashamed, but elder abuse is a widespread problem, and financial abuse can be devastating. Financial fraud affects seniors to the tune of $2.9 billion annually, according to the Government Accountability Office. It is imperative to exercise due diligence when selecting professional advisors, manage risk diligently, and be aware of the traits exhibited by predators like Bill.

Hire Experienced California Trust Attorneys

Hire Experienced California Trust Attorneys

When faced with challenges or potential disputes in trust management, it is crucial to seek the guidance of skilled attorneys. At Barr & Douds Attorneys, we focus on trust and estate litigation matters, helping our clients navigate the intricacies of the California prudent man rule and investing trust assets. Our legal team is well-versed in providing guidance to trustees and ensuring the protection of the interests of both trustees and beneficiaries.

By partnering with Barr & Douds Attorneys, you gain access to legal counsel who will effectively navigate trust-related issues and help you make informed decisions regarding trust investing in line with the prudent person rule. Our firm’s dedicated lawyers strive to protect the victims of fraud and hold unscrupulous trustees to account.

Take a proactive step in safeguarding trust assets by reaching out to Barr & Douds Attorneys today.

Loren Barr
by Loren Barr
Updated: October 12, 2023

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