Trustee Law & Legal Definition


The person who manages a trust, the trustee, has a legal duty to manage the trust's assets in the best interests of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. Typical trustee duties include managing rental properties, investing funds or paying income to the beneficiary.

How much a trustee is required to do and how much access he or she has to the funds should be specified in the trust. A simple or mandatory trust requires the trustee to distribute income to the beneficiary. A complex or discretionary trust may afford the trustee discretion over the principal and income to be distributed.

Generally, trustees are paid for their services because of the amount of work involved in managing a trust and the threat of potential liability if assets are mismanaged. It is advisable to agree in advance upon how much a trustee is to be paid. Due to the high standard of duty and liability imposed on trustees, an individual or entity cannot be forced into becoming a trustee just because he or she is named in a trust document or will. If your designated trustee is unable or unwilling to perform, the court will appoint a trustee for you, unless a successor trustee is named in the trust instrument.

If a co-trustees are named, they usually have the same powers and obligations. In some cases, a co-trustee may be a temporary replacement for the original trustee if he/she is unable to act. The co-trustee must consult with the other trustee(s), unless the language of the trust allows one co-trustee to act alone.

The following is a state statute dealing with a trustee's discretion:

AS 13.38.340. Discretion of Trustee Regarding Conversion.

The trustee may, in the trustee's discretion, from time to time, determine

(1) the effective date of a conversion to a unitrust;

(2) the provisions for prorating a unitrust distribution for a short year in which a beneficiary's right to payments commences or ceases;

(3) the frequency of unitrust distributions during the year;

(4) the effect of other payments from or contributions to the trust on the trust's valuation;

(5) whether to value the trust's assets annually or more frequently;

(6) what valuation dates to use;

(7) how frequently to value nonliquid assets and whether to estimate their value;

(8) whether to omit trust property occupied or possessed by a beneficiary from the calculations; and

(9) other matters necessary for the proper functioning of the unitrust.