Trust administration is a complex process involving managing and distributing assets held in trust while adhering to the trust document and applicable laws. A trustee who fails to manage the trust effectively can face significant legal consequences, including personal liability, removal as trustee, and even criminal charges. Therefore, it is essential for a trustee to understand the five fundamentals of trust administration and to work closely with a skilled attorney to ensure they fulfill their legal duties and responsibilities.
The First Fundamental: Loyalty
A trustee has a fiduciary duty to act solely in the best interests of the beneficiaries and to administer the trust according to the terms of the trust document and applicable laws. This means the trustee cannot use the trust assets for their personal benefit and must avoid any conflicts of interest that could compromise their loyalty to the beneficiaries. For example, a trustee cannot use trust funds to invest in their own business or purchase property for personal use.
The Second Fundamental: Impartiality
A trustee must treat all beneficiaries fairly and impartially, regardless of their personal relationships with the beneficiaries or individual interests in the trust assets. The trustee must make decisions based solely on the terms of the trust document and applicable laws and avoid bias or favoritism towards any particular beneficiary.
The Third Fundamental: Prudent Investment
A trustee has a duty to invest the trust assets in a reasonable and appropriate manner for the trust’s purposes and the beneficiaries’ needs. This means that the trustee must exercise reasonable care, skill, and caution when making investment decisions and diversify the investments to minimize risk and maximize return. Additionally, the trustee must periodically review the investments and adjust them as needed to ensure they continue to meet the trust’s objectives.
The Fourth Fundamental: Accurate Record-Keeping
A trustee must maintain accurate records of all trust transactions, including investments, disbursements, and distributions. This requires the trustee to keep detailed records of all trust assets, income, and expenses and to provide periodic statements to the beneficiaries that show the status of the trust. Accurate record-keeping is essential to ensure the trustee can demonstrate compliance with the trustee’s legal duties and to provide transparency to the beneficiaries.
The Fifth Fundamental: Comply With Reporting Requirements.
It is essential to ensure the trust is administered in accordance with the law. A trustee must file all required tax returns and other reports with the appropriate government agencies and provide copies of these reports to the beneficiaries. Failure to comply with reporting requirements can result in significant legal consequences.
Tax Planning Is a Critical Component of Trust Administration
A trustee must understand the tax implications of the trust’s investments, income, and distributions and take steps to minimize the tax liability of the trust and its beneficiaries. A tax lawyer, certified public accountant, or other professional should work closely with the trustee to develop a tax-efficient strategy that meets the trust’s objectives and complies with applicable tax laws.
Effective Communication With Beneficiaries Is Important
A trustee must keep beneficiaries reasonably informed about the trust’s activities, including investments, income, expenses, and distributions, by providing regular reports to the beneficiaries and responding promptly to any requests for information or clarification. Clear communication is important for establishing and maintaining trust among beneficiaries and mitigating potential misunderstandings or disputes.
Considerations for Retaining the Right Trust and Estate Attorney
Not all trust and estate attorneys are created equal. An outstanding trust and estate attorney possesses unique skills and traits that make them stand out. Your advisor must have an in-depth understanding of estate planning, trust and estate administration, and probate law. They must be knowledgeable about tax laws, asset protection, and estate and gift taxes.
In addition, find a counselor with exceptional communication skills – particularly one who can translate complex legal concepts into simple talking points and understandable action items. Strong analytical skills when reviewing sophisticated financial statements and legal documents undoubtedly leads to the right legal advice and creative solutions to difficult estate planning problems. Meticulous attention to detail and the highest degree of organization are musts – along with the requisite interpersonal skills to build strong relationships and collaborate with other financial professionals to ensure your plan is comprehensive and effective. Great listeners are always a bonus.
Why Kreis Enderle?
At Kreis Enderle, we provide the best advice and tactical solutions for your most challenging estate planning matters while navigating you through the pitfalls of serving as a trustee. We ably guide you through the trust administration process and will ensure you fulfill your legal obligations and administer the trust in accordance with the grantor’s wishes and the law. Trustees particularly value our ability to adapt our advisory services specially to their distinct needs and budget – as we are flexible, agile, and able to stay on track and on budget.