Do I Need An Attorney If I Am A Trustee Of A Trust?
Congratulations – you’ve been selected to be a trustee, or maybe you’re even volunteering to do it. Except, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. That means you, as a new trustee, have that responsibility. Is it a responsibility you can handle without an attorney?
Trust Basics: What is a Trust?
At its most basic, a trust is a legal entity that holds property for and on behalf of others. The settlor—the person who creates the trust–sets certain rules about how and when trust property can be used. But trusts don’t operate themselves. It takes a human being—a trustee—to actually carry out the settlor’s wishes.
A trust may have a number of beneficiaries—people, family, pets, businesses, or charities (and sometimes, all of them). Beneficiaries may not even actually be alive yet, such as if property is left to a grandchild or far off heir. Each beneficiary may receive different benefits from the trust at different times.
Why You May Need an Attorney
As the trustee, you are responsible for making sure the trust’s assets are protected, and that you are abiding by the trust’s terms as stated by the trust settlor and all applicable laws. This is the first reason you may need an attorney: If a trust’s language is written in legal language that you don’t understand you may need an estate and trusts attorney to help you decipher what the trust says or what it legally means.
Even trusts that seem simple can be far more complicated than you might expect. For example, does leaving property to “children” mean the deceased’s natural children, adopted children, step-children, or all of them? An attorney can help you manage this kind of situation.
Conflicts between beneficiaries may arise—conflicts you may want to stay out of because you may have a personal relationship with beneficiaries, and as a trustee, you are expected to remain neutral. An estate attorney can handle these conflicts for you, and give you a neutral ear to advise you as to how to administer the trust when there is conflict between beneficiaries.
Then there is the simple matter of time. You may be a working person, with your own life. The details of re-titling property, keeping the accurate records that a trust requires, complying with government rules and regulations or making sure you are maximizing tax benefits for the trust, may be more than you want to deal with. An estate and trusts attorney can help you this way as well.
Remember that a trustee can be held personally liable for mistakes, errors, or trust assets that aren’t accurately documented. That includes making investments that waste or deplete trust resources. Having a trust and estate attorney can help you avoid liability and make sure you’re properly managing trust assets.
Call the Torrance estate planning attorneys at Samuel Ford Law today for help if you are a trustee of a trust, or for any other of your estate planning needs.