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What is a Breach of Trust?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Breach means to break, and a breach of trust is essentially a broken trust, a way in which someone fails to fulfill promises connected to something or someone entrusted to him/her. In the business sense you’ll see this term sometimes associated specifically with the administration of trusts. For instance the trustee of an estate could spend all the money in it, or merely fail to do his/her job. Breach of trust may also be used in other business contexts, not merely administration of trust funds, to show how a person deliberately or through neglect failed to act in the terms specified in agreements; an accountant who embezzles funds breaks trust with his clients.

There are many examples of the way in which a broken trust may occur, but they all have things in common. The breach of trust violates the terms of the agreement between the parties involved. Second, the person who breaks the trust has been entrusted with something: administering funds, investing someone else’s money, supervising employees, taking care of a child, giving medical care, teaching, taking care of an animal, or acting as a pastor for a community.

In order to get through life, most of us must trust, at some point, some aspect of our lives to others. Even a manager/employee relationship is one of certain types of trust, governed by employment and anti-discrimination laws. When you give someone else some authority or power in your life, they have a certain amount of control over you, which when not honored is a breach of trust.

Breaking trust isn’t always intentional. Sometimes the person in authority violates the trust of someone else simply by failing to do his or her job well or accurately. Other times, actions are intentional breaches and an abuse of the person’s position of trust.

In the legal setting, this phrase may be used to describe business relationships where one party failed to fulfill or intentionally broke terms of a contract. In other settings, trust can be violated in numerous ways, mostly when a person in power abuses his/her position. You could look at the following as breaches of trust in day-to-day settings:

  • A doctor/therapist/pastor has a sexual liaison with a patient/parishioner.
  • A teacher or parent verbally, physically or sexually abuses a child.
  • A parent or foster-parent fails to provide basic care to a child entrusted to them.
  • A manager sexually harasses employees or breaks laws governing workplace behavior.
  • An employer fails to provide state mandated rights to workers.
  • A babysitter neglects her charge also racks up hundreds of dollars of long-distance phone calls.
  • You pet sitter doesn’t walk your dog as specified.
  • Someone taking care of your house in your absence doesn’t water your plants.

The breach of trust can be very huge, or quite small. Your housesitter might not water your plants, which is a tiny breach. If your housesitter takes all your bills, steals your credit card numbers and takes off with your furniture, this is a huge breach of trust.

Despite these breaches, we are dependent upon others and must place trust in them from time to time. Whether you’re entrusting your bank account or your dry cleaning to someone else, just remember that the majority of people plan to fulfill their agreements with you. Evaluate businesses, schools, babysitters, and bosses by getting information and references from others so you can place trust in others more easily, but wisely.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon335452 — On May 20, 2013

My accountant stole thousands of dollars. He eventually repaid it, but can I sue for damages or breach of trust?

By anon266267 — On May 04, 2012

@anon144773: This is so a breach of trust. I would check in to it. I think you might have a civil and a criminal suit. That is just wrong on so many levels!

By anon254393 — On Mar 13, 2012

Can we get the remedies for breach of trust?

By anon254042 — On Mar 12, 2012

I am getting ready to divorce my husband of 22 years, however, I am wondering if it would be possible to sue him separately for breach of trust. The issues are many but essentially involve repeated broken promises that have resulted in emotional distress, physical and emotional abuse to myself and my family and financial deceit.

I have never had much to do with lawsuits but it seems like this could be possible. Am I correct?

By sunshine31 — On Apr 07, 2011

@Oasis11- I heard about that case and it made me sick. I have to say that my friend’s brother went into the same line of work as his father but chose to open his own business.

Even though his father taught him everything he knew he actually went after his father’s clients. I can’t believe the level of betrayal not to mention breach of trust that this entailed.

The client told his father and that is how the father found out. They didn’t talk for years but recently made up and are now talking again. I just don’t know how you can do something like that.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. I really don’t know how his father recovered from that act of betrayal.

By oasis11 — On Apr 05, 2011

@Suntan12 -That is awful. Whenever I think of a breach of trust I always think of Bernie Madoff. Madoff swindled his investors of billions of dollars with fraudulent statements in order to keep the Ponzi scheme going.

What is really sad is that many of these investors invested their entire life savings with this man and he violated his fiduciary duties by intentionally stealing their money for his personal gain.

This is why the judge gave him over 100 years in prison because this was the largest case of fraud in the United States in fact the statues only go up to $450 million dollars in damages and he surpassed that several times over.

By suntan12 — On Apr 04, 2011

@Crispety - I agree that is a terrible situation. I just wanted to say that I recently heard of a breach of trust with fraudulent intent case regarding a parental volunteer that embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from a school.

She bought herself Botox injections and went on shopping sprees. She had fiduciary duties and was responsible for the fund raising efforts of the school’s community.

This was such a huge breach of trust because the school was counting on these funds for various field trips and this parent was taking the money for personal reasons.

I also think that it is especially shameful for her children and husband because they will be faced with the damage of this obvious breach of trust and her son will probably have to go to another school and lose his friends.

By Crispety — On Apr 03, 2011

@Anon144773- Wow, that is terrible. I would have to say that this does fall under a total breach of trust definition. I would seek an attorney and file a criminal breach of trust.

You can also file civil charges after the criminal trial is settled. This is also damaging to your reputation because he is using your image without your permission. You definitely have grounds to sue and should talk to a lawyer right away.

By anon144773 — On Jan 20, 2011

My father-in-law took home videos of me and my company at my child's fourth birthday party and then clipped the videos with real porn stars to make a porn out of me and another lady at the party. My mother in law found the video and we are wondering if this is a breach of trust since I trusted him in my home to take home movies. Is this criminal or even civil?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
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