What is a Trustee?

A trustee is a person who acts as a custodian of the assets held in a Trust. There are two terms you need to know:

Primary Trustee

The creator of the Trust will act as the Primary Trustee until they pass. This means you have full control of all assets transferred to your Trust. Once the Primary Trustee has passed, whoever you've named as your Successor Trustee(s) will take over to administer and distribute assets under the terms of your Trust.

Successor Trustee

A Successor Trustee is someone appointed to take over the trust's management if the Primary Trustee is unable to fulfill their duties. This transition usually occurs upon the Primary Trustee's death, ensuring the trust continues to operate smoothly and according to its terms, benefiting the designated beneficiaries.

You can pick anyone over 18 to be your Successor Trustee, and you're free to choose more than one person at the same time if you want. It's okay to name someone who is also getting a benefit from the trust (a Beneficiary) or someone you've chosen to take care of your dependents (a Guardian), but you don't have to. If you prefer, you can also choose a lawyer or a professional company to be your Trustee, but this isn't necessary.

What does a Trustee do? 

A Trustee is entrusted with managing a trust's assets, ensuring they are handled according to the trust document's terms for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The core responsibilities include:

  • Asset Management: Safeguarding and prudently investing trust assets.
  • Record Keeping: Maintaining accurate records of all transactions within the trust.
  • Beneficiary Distributions: Distributing assets to beneficiaries as specified by the trust.
  • Financial Reporting: Providing detailed accounting and financial reports to beneficiaries.
  • Decision Making: Making complex financial and investment decisions, often requiring consultation with legal and financial professionals.

The role of a Trustee evolves over time. Initially, if you create a trust, you might act as both the Primary Trustee and the Beneficiary, giving you considerable flexibility in managing the trust—this is because you’re responsible for yourself as Trustee.

However, after your death, the Successor Trustee may have to give legal notices to Beneficiaries, make accounting and tax decisions, and potentially deal with courts. Many Trustees hire an attorney and/or an accountant to help with these decisions.

How do I add, edit, or remove a Trustee in my Estate Plan?

You can make changes to your Trust by following this guide: How to Edit Information in Your Estate Plan Documents

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