Trustee Responsibilities and Obligations


Trustee overview

As a trustee, your responsibilities and obligations are to the trust document. A trust is a binding legal contract. Trustees are fiduciaries – by law, they have a legal duty to comply with the trust instructions. The trustee must act prudently at all times for the benefit of the trust beneficiaries.

Now, let’s review the instructions for a Trustee in the event of the following:

  1. A physical or mental incapacity
  2. At death

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Trustee Responsibilities and Obligations


Responsibilities of a Trustee at physical incapacity

  1. Contact the attorney who prepared the trust document. Get a copy of the trust document and review it for specific instructions. You will need to have the appropriate letter from a physician and maybe two or more specialists to document the person’s condition.
  2. Notify banks and other institutions that you are now the trustee of the person. Each institution may have different requirements but can count on showing them the following:

⇒ Copy of the doctor(s) letter.

⇒ Trust document

⇒ Personal identification

  • Take inventory of all property, especially real estate. Get all keys, maintenance crews if applicable, and continue to maintain any utilities, etc.
  • Make a list of all current debts, and transact any business of the incapacitated person. Keep a ledger of all debts paid and any income received.
  • If there are back-up trustees, keep them informed at all times.

Responsibilities of a Trustee at death

  1. Inform the family of your position as the trustee and assist as needed with the funeral arrangements, flowers, cemetery marker, special wishes for service, etc., and update friends and family members.
  2. Give copies of the trust document to all beneficiaries described in the trust.
  3. Order at least 12 certified death certificates which the funeral home can assist. Essential for transferring titles, etc.
  4. Contact the estate planning attorney and update them should you have any questions or concerns.
  5. Notify the banks. Again you will need documents to gain access to the accounts like the following:
  1. Certified copy of death certificate
  2. Trust document
  3. Personal identification
  • Get ahold of all agencies like the following who provide a death benefit
  1. Social Security
  2. Life Insurance companies
  3. Retirement plans
  1. Take note: Put these into an interest-bearing account until distribution.
  • Secure all real property, jewelry, collector items, cars, etc. and maintain all keys. Take inventory.
  • Through bank records, determine all accounts payable and receivables and start a ledger. Pay all bills and taxes.
  • Income taxes: Contact an accountant to prepare the final income taxes and any other estate tax an inheritance tax returns.

After paying debts and taxes, complete the final accounting record of all assets and bills paid. Send a copy to all beneficiaries. Keeping transparent is critical. 

Finally, make sure you get a signed receipt from all beneficiaries stating they received their property.

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