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Trustee of a Trust

Updated: February 9, 2024
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A trustee of a trust is a legal arrangement in which a trustee holds and manages assets to benefit the trust’s beneficiaries. The trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the testator and will be responsible for managing and allocating the assets according to the terms of the trust.

Implications of Being a Trustee of a Trust

The trustee is a person or entity who controls all operations within the trust, and this can be extensive. Below are some important duties of a trustee.

Legal Duties Imposed on Trustees

A trust is an agreement where a trustee handles properties meant for an heir. Trustees need to comply with several legal requirements when properly handling a trust. These responsibilities may vary from one jurisdiction to another, as well as from one trust to another; however, in general, trustees should:

  • Abiding by the Terms of The Trust: This means doing what is being stipulated in that document; it includes all actions concerning managing its assets for their purposes and giving out income or principal to beneficiaries.
  • Acting in the Best Interests of Beneficiaries: It always demands that whatever they do be directed towards ensuring that beneficiaries get the most out of the Trust funds, even if such decisions do not favor them as they should.
  • Keeping Records: The trustee is tasked with maintaining correct records on all transactions relating to the institution, such as income, expenditure, or distribution.
  • Taking Due Care: In discharging his fiduciary duties, the trustee is obligated to exercise due care and diligence. It involves prudently supervising assets and seeking professional advice when necessary.
  • Maintaining Conflict-Free Fiduciary Relationship: In addition, there shouldn’t exist any conflicts between those they have with their interests and those associated with different trusts or potential heirs. Whenever disputes arise, they must be disclosed to beneficiaries before taking appropriate remedial steps.
  • Complying with Applicable Laws and Regulations: The laws governing trusts within their jurisdiction should be observed by the trustee.

Ethical Issues for Trustees

In addition, there are ethical issues that trustees must consider in running a trust. Although not mandatory under the law, these ethical considerations are important in maintaining respect and integrity of the trust. Some of these ethical considerations include:

  • Openness: They should be prepared to share with their heirs why certain actions were taken.
  • Consideration: The trustee should treat the beneficiaries as free individuals rather than mere chattels or objects.
  • Equity: Concerning heirs, fairness and honesty should be pursued by the trustee.
  • Long-Lasting: Making an effort to ensure continuity as well as avoiding any actions that will negatively affect viability and reputation in the future should be considered by the trustee.

Fiduciary Duties Imposed on Trustees

Moreover, trustees also have fiduciary responsibilities toward beneficiaries of trusts aside from legal and ethical expectations. Fiduciary duties are legally imposed on a trustee to use utmost good faith, care, and loyalty when handling property as required by law. The major fiduciary obligations of trustees are:

  • The Duty of Prudence: He must exhibit caution, skill, and judgment that would be expected from an ordinary prudent person dealing with property entrusted to him.
  • Loyalty Obligations: A trustee is required to act solely for the benefit of his/her cestuis que trustent sans benefiting himself or herself thereby.
  • The Duty of Accountability: The trustee is under obligation to keep beneficiaries informed about trust activities and update them on the financial status.
  • The Duty of Impartiality: The trustee has to treat all beneficiaries fairly and without prejudice.
  • The Duty of Confidentiality: The trustee is required to ensure that all details concerning trusts are kept secret unless obliged by law or permitted by the successors.

Kinds of Trustees

The trustees are crucial for addressing the trust and ensuring the use of its assets according to the intended objectives.

  • Individual Trustees: This is a person whom you trust to manage your trust. It could be one of your family members or friends, but it can also be a professional trustee. Acting in the best interests of beneficiaries and managing trust assets prudently, this group is responsible for making investment decisions, distributing income and principal to beneficiaries, and keeping accurate records of trust transactions.
  • Co-Trustees: These are two or more trustees who have been appointed to manage a trust jointly. For further supervision purposes, this kind of arrangement is mostly used to prevent one person from having too much authority in the area of the trustee. They are obliged as fiduciaries to act in the best interest of beneficiaries and manage trust assets well by making appropriate investments, paying out income and principal amounts as well as maintaining proper books of account on all transactions relating to the trusts. To come up with decisions to be made about the management of trusts, including those involving investments, for example, they will always need to work together through live interaction.
  • Corporate Trustees: A corporate trustee is a professional trustee nominated to execute a trust. A bank or a trust company that can handle complex trusts is typically involved in such a capacity as a trustee, with this type of trustee being considered one among them that have resources and experience that enable them to provide such services effectively. Corporate trustees are governed by federal and state laws, and they must act honestly towards those entitled to them; hence, their interests should not be ignored when managing these assets so that there may be transparency between them. Managing the trust assets, making investment decisions, distributing income and principal to beneficiaries, and keeping accurate records of trust transactions are some responsibilities corporate trustees have.
  • Trust Protectors: Trust protectors act as overseers over actions conducted by trustees while at the same time ensuring that all steps taken towards managing such trusts are in the best interest of their beneficiaries. These types of arrangements also provide additional oversight and help protect the beneficiaries. These protectors have the authority to remove or replace a trustee, amend trust terms, and other aspects relating to trust management.
  • Successor Trustees: A successor trustee is a trustee who is appointed to manage a trust if the original trustee is unable to do so. In addition, this kind of trustee appointment ensures that there is someone responsible for managing the trust’s properties in case its original trustee dies, becomes disabled, or resigns. Successor trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and to manage the trust assets prudently. They are responsible for making investment decisions, distributing income and principal to beneficiaries, and keeping accurate records of trust transactions.
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Key Terms for a Trustee of a Trust

  • Beneficiary: A person or group of individuals who benefit from a trust made by the trustee.
  • Fiduciary Duty: A legal responsibility of trustees to act in the best interest of the heirs and manage assets prudently.
  • Trustee Compensation: The payment or fees are given to the trustee for their services in handling the trust.
  • Trust Instrument: A legal document that outlines the terms and conditions of the trust, including the trustee's powers and duties.
  • Trust Corpus: The property or assets held in the trust for the benefit of the heirs.
  • Trust Administration: Managing the trust, including distributing income and principal, investing assets, and maintaining records.

Final Thoughts on a Trustee of a Trust

A trustee is important in managing a trust and is required to have a fiduciary obligation to act for the benefit of heirs. While maintaining accurate records and staying in touch with beneficiaries, trustees are expected to adhere to the terms of the trust instrument and handle trust assets prudently. The remuneration of trustees should be reasonable and commensurate with the intricacy of trust administration. Overall, a trustworthy and knowledgeable trustee is indispensable for the successful administration of a trust.

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