What is a Trustee?

A trustee is the designated manager of a trust, and in this capacity, holds title to all the assets of the trust. These assets may include real estate, a portfolio of stocks, bonds and similar instruments, a closely held business, coin and art collections or any number of assets.

A trustee can be an individual, a bank or a trust company. An estate may set up multiple trusts to create individual trusts for each beneficiary for instance. A trustee can manage more than one trust, and a trust may be co-managed by a number of trustees that may be individuals or corporations.

Duration of Trustee Assignment

Typically, when families set up their trust, family members who may also be beneficiaries may serve as trustees. Married couples are acting as co-trustees set up the succession so that if one is incapacitated or passes away, the surviving partner continues as trustee without further requirements. A successor trustee steps in as fiduciary when the surviving trustee is no longer able to manage the trust. A succession plan is usually in place with family members, corporations or a combination of both designated as trustees.

Some trusts may be set up for a defined duration, such as when beneficiaries are minors scheduled to receive the assets when they reach a certain age or meet grantor-defined conditions. For some trustees, the designation is a long-term commitment.

Responsibilities of a Trustee

Trusts are created for the benefit and protection of the grantees. The trustee is tasked with making investment decisions to preserve and grow the assets of the trust guided by instructions set forth in the trust documents. It is the duty of the trustee to abide by the conditions defined by the grantor concerning distribution to beneficiaries. As such, trustees are expected to remain neutral and refrain from favoring one beneficiary over another.

Trustees perform administrative tasks including bill payments, tax paperwork, and compliance with applicable regulations pertaining to the trust. Trustees must also inform beneficiaries about the status of the trust’s assets, investments, reinvestment strategies, and distributions while ensuring that private information is kept confidential. Trustees may be held responsible for losses incurred by the trust.

Role of the Estate Planning Attorney

Establishing a trust, designating trustees and managing the trust can be a complicated business. An estate planning attorney can help trustees navigate through the complex rules concerning trust management. Consult an attorney who specializes in estate planning to make sure that all the legal issues are covered.

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