Why Does a Trust Need a Trustee?

Written by admin

February 15, 2024


As you consider how to best manage and distribute your assets, you may come across the concept of a trust. A trust can be a useful estate planning tool, allowing you to provide for your loved ones and causes you care about. But a trust requires a trustee. You may wonder, why does a trust need a trustee at all? Couldn’t you just set up a trust and be done with it? Appointing a trustee is a key part of establishing a trust. The trustee has important duties and responsibilities when it comes to managing the trust assets and carrying out your wishes. Having a competent trustee is crucial to ensuring your trust operates as intended. In this article, we will explore what exactly a trustee does and why having one is so important for making a trust work.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is a legal entity that holds assets for the benefit of another person or entity. The person who establishes and funds the trust is called the grantor. The grantor transfers legal ownership of assets, like money, land, buildings, or investments, to the trust. The assets are then managed by a trustee for the benefit of the beneficiaries named in the trust.

The Role of the Trustee

The trustee is responsible for managing the trust’s assets and distributing them to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust. The trustee can be an individual, such as a family member or friend, or a professional trustee such as a bank or trust company. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, meaning they must manage the trust assets carefully and in the best interests of the beneficiaries.

Distributing Assets to Beneficiaries

The trust document, also called the trust agreement, instructs the trustee on how and when to distribute assets to the beneficiaries. For example, the trust may specify that beneficiaries receive a certain percentage of the trust assets when they reach a certain age, such as 25% at age 25, 50% at age 30, and the remaining 25% at age 35. Alternatively, the trust may specify that beneficiaries receive income from the trust for their lifetime and that the remaining assets pass to their children or other heirs upon their death.

Managing the Trust’s Assets

The core role of a trustee is to manage the assets that have been placed in the trust. This includes investing the assets to generate income and appreciation while also ensuring the assets are protected and preserved. You must manage the trust’s assets with the same care, skill, and judgment as a prudent person. This means developing an investment strategy that aligns with the purposes and needs of the trust.

Distributing Income and Principal

Another key duty is determining how and when to distribute income and principal from the trust to the beneficiaries. The trust document will specify the distribution schedule, and you must follow these terms carefully. You need to keep accurate records of all distributions for tax and accounting purposes. You may also need to exercise some discretion at times in determining the amounts and timing of distributions.

Administering and Accounting

As trustee, you are also responsible for the proper administration of the trust. This includes maintaining financial records, tax filings, and accounts for the trust. You will need to provide regular account statements to the beneficiaries detailing the trust’s financial activities and balances. The trust’s accounts and your actions as trustee may also need to be reviewed and approved periodically by a court.

Communicating with Beneficiaries

Effective communication is important in your role as trustee. You should keep the beneficiaries informed about the administration of the trust and distributions. Be available to answer any questions they may have. While the trust document provides guidance, the needs and expectations of the beneficiaries should also influence certain discretionary decisions regarding distributions and investments. Maintaining open lines of communication will help cultivate a good working relationship and help avoid future disputes.

Trustee Duties and Responsibilities

As a trustee, you are responsible for managing the trust in accordance with the seller’s wishes and in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Your core duties include:

Administering the Trust

This involves overseeing the trust’s investments, distributions, accounting, tax filings, and record-keeping. Administer the trust in an impartial, prudent, and trustworthy manner according to the terms of the trust document

Managing Assets

Responsibility lies in making investment decisions to grow and protect the trust assets. This includes decisions around buying, selling, and diversifying investments to generate income and increase the value of the principal over time. You must employ proper asset allocation and risk management strategies based on the trust’s objectives.

Making Distributions

Obligations include distributing income and/or principal to beneficiaries according to the distribution schedule in the trust.. This requires verifying beneficiaries eligibility, determining distribution amounts, and ensuring funds are distributed accurately and timely.

Providing Accounting

As trustee, you must provide regular statements to beneficiaries detailing the trust’s financial transactions, income, expenses, distributions, investments, and current asset values. This helps keep beneficiaries informed about the trust and ensures transparency in how you are fulfilling your duties.

Why a Trust Needs a Trustee

To Administer the Trust

A trust requires a trustee to properly administer its terms and conditions, overseeing asset management and distribution according to the trust document, including tasks such as managing investments, filing tax returns, and distributing income or assets to beneficiaries. Without a trustee, there would be no one legally responsible for ensuring the trust is administered correctly.

To Act Impartially

Trustees, bound by fiduciary duty, must act impartially in the best interests of the trust and its beneficiaries, basing decisions on the terms of the trust and the needs of all beneficiaries. Appointing an impartial trustee helps avoid conflicts of interest that may arise if beneficiaries were solely in control of the trust’s assets and distributions.

To Provide Continuity

Appointing a trustee ensures continuity of trust administration, even after the grantor’s passing or incapacity, enabling the trustee to administer the trust for multiple generations of beneficiaries. In contrast, if beneficiaries were solely responsible, disputes over control and management could arise as beneficiaries pass away over time. An independent trustee provides stability through potential disruptions.


In summary, the trustee is a crucial component of any trust arrangement. As the legal owner of the trust property, the trustee has a fiduciary duty to manage the assets in the best interest of the beneficiaries. Their powers allow them to make decisions about investments, distributions, and administration. While it requires time and effort on their part, the trustee’s oversight helps ensure the trust operates smoothly and achieves its intended purpose. With their legal responsibilities and specialized knowledge, a competent trustee is essential for a trust to function effectively. You now understand why having a designated trustee is a fundamental requirement for creating and maintaining a trust.

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