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What responsibility do you have as a trustee?

If you agree to be named as the trustee to a trust someone sets up, then you are agreeing to a number of responsibilities. It's not something you should take on lightly -- the word "trust" is embedded in the title, so you know that it's something that should be taken seriously.

Perhaps the primary responsibility of most people in trustee positions is caring for the assets of the trust in a way that is in keeping with both the letter and spirit of the trust documents. That means that you have to follow the intentions laid out in the legal documents for the trust, but you might also be called upon to make decisions that aren't spelled out for you. No matter how thorough a trust document is, it can't always address every situation that will come up in the future, which is why a human trustee is so important.

When making decisions about how assets in a trust are handled, you must first consider the legal provisions. Outside of those provisions, you must make decisions that reflect the best interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. For example, you might be called upon to manage trust assets in investments. In such a case, you would need to make the best possible decisions about those investments for the beneficiaries.

As a trustee, you might also be responsible for some administrative matters. Depending on the type of trust you oversee and what provisions were set up, you might have to make regular reports to the court or to another body, such as the board of a business. It's important to remember that while you might report to these bodies, you still have to keep the interests of the beneficiary primary in most situations. For more information or help with managing a trust, consider working with an estate law professional who can show you the ropes.

Source: Council on Foundations, "Duties and Responsibilities of a Trustee," Curtis W. Meadows, accessed Jan. 20, 2017

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