If a family member or friend has asked you to serve as trustee for their trust either during their life, or upon their death, it’s a big honor—this means they consider you among the most honest, reliable, and responsible people they know.
That said, serving as a trustee is not only a great honor, but it is also a major responsibility, and the role is definitely not for everyone. Serving as a trustee entails a broad array of duties, and you are both ethically and legally required to properly perform those duties or you could face liability for not doing so.
In the end, your responsibility as a trustee will vary greatly depending on the size of the estate, the type of assets in a trust, how many beneficiaries there are, and document terms. Although you don’t have to take the job, you might actually enjoy the opportunity to serve, so long as you understand what’s expected of you.
A Trustee’s Primary Duties
Although every trust is different, serving as trustee comes with a few core requirements. These duties primarily involve accounting for, managing, and distributing the trust’s assets to its named beneficiaries as a fiduciary. Being a fiduciary means you act on behalf of the trust’s creator and beneficiaries, always putting their interests above your own. You have a legal obligation to act in a trustworthy and honest manner, while providing the highest standard of care in executing your duties. If you fail to abide by your duties as a fiduciary, you could face legal liability.
Some of your key responsibilities as trustee include:
- Identifying and protecting the trust assets
- Following trust’s terms for management and distribution of the assets
- Hiring and overseeing an accounting firm to file income and estate taxes for the trust
- Communicating regularly with beneficiaries
- Bringing in the right investment management team to manage the trust assets
- Being scrupulously honest, highly organized, and keeping detailed records of all transactions
- Closing the trust and distributing the assets when the trust terms specify
Experience NOT Required
It’s important to point out that being a trustee does NOT require you to be an expert in law, finance, taxes, or any other field related to trust administration. In fact, trustees are not only allowed to seek outside support from professionals in these areas, they are strongly encouraged to do so, and the trust estate will pay for you to hire the support you need.
So, even though serving as a trustee may seem like a daunting proposition, you won’t have to handle the job alone. And you can be paid to serve as trustee of a trust should you choose to accept the role. That said, many trustees, particularly close family members, often choose to forgo any payment beyond what’s required to cover the trust expenses, if that’s possible. Compensation as a trustee will depend on your personal circumstances, your relationship with the trust creator and beneficiaries, as well as the nature of the assets in the trust.
We’re Here To Help
Because serving as a trustee is such a serious responsibility, you should meet with us for help deciding whether or not to accept the role. We will offer you a clear, unbiased assessment of what’s required of you based on the specific trust’s terms, assets, and beneficiaries.
And if you do choose to serve, it’s even more important that you have someone who can assist you with the trust’s administration. We will guide you step-by-step throughout the entire process, ensuring you properly fulfill all of the trust creator’s wishes without exposing the beneficiaries—or yourself—to any unnecessary risks. Contact us today at 718-514-7575 to learn more.