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Maroney Law Blog

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Duties of a Trustee

We have discussed in prior blogs various types of trusts. We have also discussed the necessity and importance of selecting the right trustee.  The purpose of this blog is to give our readers assistance in making that proper selection by advising them of the duties of a trustee.

For starters, a trust is a legal arrangement where one person, known as creator, grantor, settlor, or trustor, establishes a legal entity known as a trust, and selects a person or entity known as a trustee, who will hold legal title to property for another person, who is called a beneficiary. A trustee, therefore, should be someone in whom the grantor has great confidence, and whose qualities include using good sound judgment.  A trustee’s duties include, but are not limited to the following:
 
Fiduciary Duty
A trustee has a fiduciary duty to the initial beneficiary who is entitled to the income or principal of the trust, as well as the remainder beneficiaries, which are the people who will receive the trust assets upon the death of the initial beneficiary.  A fiduciary is held to a very high standard with respect to the prudence that he or she must show toward the trust assets.
 
Comprehensive Duty
A trustee has a duty to truly know and understand the terms of the trust. The terms of the trust are contained in the words that make up the trust, and act as instructions to the trustee with respect to what she/he can do with the asset, its income, and its remainder.  It may sound simple, but if you are a trustee, you must read and fully understand the trust, and/or hire a professional to help you.
 
Investor Duty
A trustee must be a prudent investor. This means that the trustee cannot be needlessly risky or speculative with respect to the assets for which she or he is responsible as trustee. It is not his or her money to invest but, in fact, is for the beneficiary.  The trustee must be careful to make sure that she or he protects the assets for the current beneficiary as well as the future remainder beneficiaries. Seeking high income may be a natural desire, but the trustee must be careful not to indulge in choices so risky that the assets could be lost.
 
Distribution Duty
Certain trusts allow the trustee discretion with respect to whether or not she or he should make distributions to the beneficiaries of the trust.   This discretion requires the trustee to evaluate the needs of the beneficiary and future beneficiaries, against the assets of the trust.

This may often require the trustee to tell the beneficiary that she or he cannot have any more money, which moves the trustee's role into the personal realm in addition to the legal.  This can be especially tricky when the beneficiary is a relative.
 
This duty should be taken very seriously when considering and/or selecting your trustee, as a professional trustee (such as a bank, trust company, attorney, a financial adviser, accountant, etc.), may have an easier time saying no to a loved one.
 
Monitoring the Trust Duty
The trustee must be organized and have some bookkeeping skills.  She or he need not become an expert in accounting, but must have some understanding of accounting/bookkeeping, so as to track income, distributions, and expenditures.
 
Certain trusts must file a tax return, and as with the above paragraph, the trustee need not become an accountant or professional tax preparer, but if a tax return is required to be filed, it is the trustee’s duty to insure that it gets done.  This may involve delegating the job to a professional, which is discussed immediately below.
 
Delegating Duties
The trustee will be responsible for delegating duties that she or he is not equipped to handle.  A good trustee does not have to be an accountant, skilled and able to prepare a tax return, or an attorney able to handle interpretation of the trust.  A good trustee must, however, be skilled at selecting the proper professionals to help him or her complete their role as trustee.
 
Trustee Fee
Both the creator of the trust and the selected trustee should know that a trustee is entitled to a reasonable fee for his or her services. This may be especially important for family members named as trustees as they often do not wish to accept the fees.  The job of a trustee may require a serious time commitment, so in order to insure the job is done well and without a “grudge,” it may be prudent to establish in writing that you, as the creator, direct the trustee to take his or her reasonable fee.
 
If a trusted professional such as a bank, trust company, or law firm, etc. is selected as trustee,  they are entitled to and will take a reasonable fee, whether it be an hourly fee, a percentage of the fees under which they are charged to oversee as a trustee, or something else.
 
Having the appropriate information on the duties of a trustee should help you better understand how to select a trustee and/or how to serve as a trustee.  As always, should you have further questions regarding the selection of Trustees, or any other legal matter, Maroney Associates invites you to call our offices.




Based in Melville and Garden City, New York, the attorneys at the Law Offices of Maroney Associates, PLLC assist clients throughout Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens, and the cities of Mineola, Hempstead, New Hyde Park, Franklin Square, Williston Park, Queens Village, Melville, Huntington, Farmingdale, Patchogue and Uniondale, NY.



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