The Role of a Trustee


Thanksgiving Day is right around the corner and you know what that means: family, food, and self-reflection. Is my estate in order? Do I need a Trust? Who do I trust to handle my affairs when I pass? What are they allowed to do when I die?

The creator of a trust is known as the trustor. The trustor, who acts as trustee while living, will have to name a successor trustee in the event of his or her death. If a trust was created before one’s passing, then it will be necessary for property to be held temporarily by a designated individual known as a successor trustee. While trust property is usually real estate, it can also include goods like cash, securities, automobiles, and expensive jewelry.

The specific duties and the restrictions placed on a successor trustee are outlined in the written trust agreement itself, but California law places certain basic tasks on the shoulders of all trustees. Generally, they are obligated to see that the wishes of the trustor are followed in the manner spelled out in the trust itself. In most trusts, the property is to be distributed to the designated beneficiaries. Trustees are also under a legal and moral duty to handle the trust property in a financially responsible manner and for the sole purpose of benefiting the beneficiaries. If trustees violate these basic requirements, their actions in managing the property can be declared null and void, and they could even be removed or sued for mismanagement. Moreover, beneficiaries have the right to request a written accounting of the trust estate.

Some of the basic duties of a successor trustee will include the following:

  • Make himself/herself fully familiar with the details of the trust agreement
  • Ensure the Trust's terms are carried out
  • Keep complete financial records on the property's management
  • Ensure relevant assets are appraised
  • Ensure the property taxes and creditors are paid
  • Avoid any commingling of personal funds with trust's funds

These duties are not always set in stone. In some cases, if the beneficiaries agree, the trustee may take actions beyond the scope of the trustee’s powers. However, this may require a court action to accomplish.

Many times, trustees will rely on estate planning law firms to guide them through the process. Mortensen & Reinheimer, PC, in Orange County, provides full services related to the creation of trusts and their administration after death. To learn more about trustee's role and related matters, or to schedule a case evaluation, contact Mortensen & Reinheimer, PC today at 714-384-6053 or fill out their online contact form.