William J. Benz, Attorney at Law
Probate, Estates, Business and Real Estate Of Counsel to Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O'Connell, LLP
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The role and duties of a trustee in estate planning

A contributor on estate planning writing for a national publication notes that, while trustees "typically charge for their service, the value they provide far outweighs their fees."

Well, that is certainly the hope and best-case scenario. Candidly, and in cases where a trustee's performance is clearly deficient, the results for beneficiaries can be disastrous.

Luckily, they often aren't. And one central reason for more salutary outcomes owes to the duties imposed on trustees to promote beneficiaries' best interests. The bottom line there stresses a mandate to act at all times competently and in good faith.

That responsibility is of course grounded in an ethical obligation. It also owes to something more as well, though, namely a trustee's legal duty to act as a so-called and selfless "fiduciary."

Fiduciary actions must be taken to promote those intended to benefit from a trust. A trustee has many and diverse duties, which centrally include these:

  • Never mixing trust and personal assets (commingling) or using trust monies for personal use
  • Ensuring equal/impartial treatment for beneficiaries in accordance with a trustor's instructions
  • Taking reasonable actions to manage trust assets and to help them grow via prudent investment strategies
  • Maintain records, pay bills, file tax returns and timely account to beneficiaries
  • Scrupulously avoid conflicts of interest

Collectively, those and additionally related duties are sometimes easier said than done. Moreover, deficient performance can sometimes lead to personal liability for a trustee.

For those reasons and more, trustees sometimes turn for help to proven estate planning legal counsel. An experienced attorney - who, notably also acts as a fiduciary - can provide broad-based guidance and practical assistance in the administration of a trust.

 

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