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Choosing Your Trustee: Duties, Qualities, and Tips

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The trustee you select is the key decision to assure your trust will serve your beneficiaries well. California law imposes a variety of duties and responsibilities on your trustee. For instance, a trustee is supposed to serve a 120 day notice on trust beneficiaries after the settlor's death. In addition, certain notices are required when an accounting is provided. In general, the trustee must act diligently and avoid conflicts of interest and self-dealing. The trustee has a duty to keep the beneficiaries informed of the progress of the trust administration. Your trustee will have complex and demanding duties such as:

  • Managing the trust’s investments and distributing its assets
  • Balancing the (sometimes conflicting) interests of multiple beneficiaries
  • Accounting and record keeping
  • Protecting trust assets
  • Managing personal financial affairs
  • Complying with your intentions, as well as current trust laws
  • Making tax-related decisions
  • Paying trust expenses

The Qualities to Look for in Your Trustee

A trustee requires integrity, judgement, and the ability to command your (and your beneficiaries’) respect and confidence. You need to consider whether the trustee:
  • Will be available to serve and willing to continue throughout the term of the trust
  • Has no conflict of interest and holds no bias towards any beneficiary
  • Is diligent and organized
  • Does candidate have experience managing trusts like yours?
  • Is candidate knowledgeable and experienced about investments, real estate, accounting, tax law and planning, record keeping, and reporting? If not, will have to associate with/hire professionals

Individual Trustee Versus Professional Fiduciary/Trust Department

Individual: spouse, relative, friend. Needs to have necessary time; harder if lives out of state; also can person handle real estate and handle your personal affairs? Most families pick individual trustees although professional trustees can be a better option in certain situations. David Arietta can help you select your trustee. If a family has multiple children, caution picking one of them. If they all get along now, what about the future? If they already do not get along then you should seriously consider someone else as trustee. Professional Trustee: professional skill and experience; available when needed to serve. Options include local independent professional fiduciaries, bank trust departments and financial institution trust departments. In Contra Costa County there are a variety of professional trustee options. Many of the local banks have trust departments as well as the brokerage houses. Local independent fiduciaries are another great option. David Arietta can help you select a professional trustee. For more questions about estate planning, visit our FAQ page.