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What Are California Trustees Responsible For?

Being named as a trustee is an important role. Trustees have certain legal duties that they must fulfill, in addition to adhering to the terms of the trust agreement. Even though the trustee has the right to manage trust assets, and the discretion to administer the assets reasonably, the trustee is also bound by certain fiduciary obligations to the trust beneficiaries. A California trust administration attorney can help you review qualifications for a trustee. If you are a trustee, an attorney can answer questions you might have regarding your duties and responsibilities as a trustee.

Duties and Responsibilities of Trustees in California

The trust document itself dictates many of the trustee’s duties and responsibilities. However, trustees are also bound by the duties outlined in the California Probate Code under the Trust Administration section. 

Some of the duties and responsibilities outlined in the code include:

  • The code requires a trustee to administer the trust in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. 
  • A trustee of a revocable trust should follow the written directions of the settlor or someone appointed by the settlor to give the trustee directions. An exception may be if the written directions modify the trust.  In that case, the trustee does not need to follow the directions unless they follow the procedures outlined in the trust for modifying the terms of the trust.
  • A trustee must treat multiple beneficiaries fairly and impartially when dealing with the beneficiaries and managing the trust property. 
  • A trustee cannot use or destroy trust property for the trustee’s benefit. 
  • Trustees cannot require beneficiaries to release the trustee from liability as a condition of making disbursements from the trust.
  • A trustee should take reasonable steps to enforce claims that are part of the trust, avoid accepting roles that are adverse to the trust and defend actions that could harm the trust assets.

The most important role of a trustee is to serve as a fiduciary. As a fiduciary, the trustee must always act in the best interest of the trust beneficiaries. That duty typically guides all other duties and responsibilities of the trustee. A trustee should also maintain the trust assets separate and apart from all of his or her other property, and maintain detailed, current, and accurate books and records for the trust. Beneficiaries may request an accounting of the trust assets periodically. The trustee may have a duty to provide the accounting, depending on the terms of the trust and other factors. 

Trustees also have a duty not to delegate their responsibilities and duties to another party when the trustee is reasonably able to perform the duties. This requirement does not prohibit a trustee from employing professionals, such as attorneys, accountants, financial advisors or property managers, when necessary to assist with the administration of the trust.

The type of trust can dictate some of the trustee’s duties and responsibilities.  A trustee should always read the trust document in full to ensure the trustee understands the duties and responsibilities outlined within the trust document. 

Contact a California Estate-Planning Attorney For Help

Trustees may consult with a California estate planning attorney when they have questions regarding their duties and responsibilities. They may retain the services of an attorney when they need assistance with various legal matters that impact the trust. Talk with our California estate planning attorneys today