The Responsibilities of a Trustee

We work with clients to craft an estate plan so that upon their death their wishes will be carried out and their loved ones provided for. The central document in most estate plans is the trust. Most trusts we create are revocable, meaning that our clients—referred to as the trustor in the estate plan—can change, update, or nullify the trust throughout their lives.  But a will and a trust alone are just pieces of paper. It takes the actions of people to put them into effect.

A revocable trust becomes an irrevocable trust upon the death of the trustor. In the trust, the trustor names a successor trustee. Administering a trust can be challenging, and there are laws governing what a trustee can and cannot do. One of the main focuses of my practice is trust administration, which involves guiding trustees through the process and advising them of their legal obligations. Sometimes the trustor was a client, and so I’m helping to administer a trust that I drafted. Other times, I didn’t know the trustor and am administering a trust written decades ago, or one updated through the years with trust amendments.

One of the most common mistakes trustees make is selling property or distributing assets too soon. After a trust becomes irrevocable, with the trustor’s death, the trustee must send notice to all interested parties and wait for 120 days in the event that someone decides to contest the trust. Changing the form of the trust’s assets in any way during this statute of limitations period is a critical mistake because it opens up the trustee to personal liability. The notification document that a trustee sends out specifically references California Probate Code Section 16061.7. This detail matters and is an example of one of the many reasons why it is essential to hire an attorney to assist with trust administration. The trustor names a trustee because they—as the name suggests— are someone whose judgment and integrity they have faith in. The trustee hires an attorney because that attorney knows the law. It is a partnership that fulfills the obligation of making sure someone’s last wishes are respected.

Happy Planning!

B.B.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Brittany Britton is licensed to practice law in the state of California only.

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