Duties of an Independent Trustee for Last Wills

By Carrie Ferland

An independent trustee is an individual appointed by the court to oversee the fiscal affairs of a decedent’s estate. Independent trustees are so called because they lack familial, personal and professional ties to the decedent. The idea is that by having no prior relationship with the decedent or his surviving family, the trustee is far less likely to exhibit bias to any particular party. Independent trustees are appointed in response to the court’s concern, such as suspicions of financial misappropriation. As such, independent trustees possess unique powers and responsibilities.

Fiduciary Duties

Above all else, an independent trustee has a fiduciary duty first to the decedent, then to the beneficiaries and the estate as an entirety. The trustee is charged with protecting and defending the estate against mismanagement, improper claims and fraud, while still being prudent with investments and other interests maintained on the estate’s behalf. An obligation unique to the independent trustee is the duty not to appoint any person or entity to assume responsibility for any of the trustee’s tasks. The independent trustee must handle every task himself and seek approval from the court and, if applicable, all co-trustees assigned to the estate.

Managing Cash Assets

One of the primary duties of the trustee is to manage the estate’s liquid assets, including bank accounts, investments and other interests. Upon appointment, the trustee should review and account for all cash assets listed by the will, establish a record of any assets not explicitly described in the will and “balance” the amounts using prior accounting records and receipts. Afterward, the trustee is responsible for recording all deposits, including dates, times, locations, amounts and the source of the income, in addition to the dates, times, amounts and reasons for each withdrawal. Depending on the instructions provided by the particular court, the trustee must furnish a copy of these records on a regular basis -- usually, once every three to four months and any time a legitimate question arises regarding expenditures.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Disbursing Funds

As the administrators are entitled to use the estate’s resources to cover the estate’s expenses, the trustee is responsible for disbursing funds upon the administrators’ request. In general, the administrator must make a written request detailing the amount needed and the reasons why. The trustee must then either disburse the money or provide a reason for denying the request. The trustee must be diligent in handling these requests, as the trustee may be subject to reprimand, punishment or even personal liability for continually mismanaging the estate’s funds.

Dividing Assets

While the court administers the remainder of the estate, the trustee typically assumes responsibility for dividing the assets among the beneficiaries, particularly in matters where the court appoints an independent trustee to oversee the administrator’s activities in response to suspected mismanaging or misappropriation. If a will exists, the trustee divides the assets among the beneficiaries according to the instructions therein. Otherwise, the court determines who shall inherit what, in which case the trustee is merely responsible for turning over physical possession or control to the beneficiary. Once the estate is officially resolved, the court releases the trustee from duty and the trustee has no additional obligations to the estate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Rights of the Beneficiary of a Family Trust



Related articles

What if You Violated an Irrevocable Trust?

The person appointed to oversee an irrevocable trust must act according to the terms of the trust and in the best interest of those who benefit under the trust. While all states recognize this duty, the type of recourse available in cases of breach can vary. Knowing when you may petition the court for removal of a trustee and when he may be personally liable for financial losses will help ensure that your trust operates according to the wishes of its creator.

What Are Co-Trustee Powers?

While most trusts are set up with a single trustee, others follow a different format. When multiple trustees have responsibility for managing trust assets, each is a legal co-trustee. If you are involved in a trust arrangement as a co-trustee, it's important to know exactly what your authority is and what decisions you will have to make.

What Does it Mean to Be the Executor to a Will?

The executor to a will is the person chosen by the probate judge to act as the administrator of a deceased person’s estate during the probate process. The executor is often someone who was nominated for this role in the will, but the judge makes the ultimate decision as to who will serve in this capacity. In addition to the personal obligations an executor might feel toward the deceased, the executor has legal responsibilities to the estate, its creditors and beneficiaries.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

How to Find Out if the Executor of an Estate Cashed Insurance Checks

The executor of an estate is accountable to the beneficiaries, heirs and estate creditors for his administration of the ...

Trustee Duties for a Revocable Trust After Death

When a grantor creates a revocable trust, he must appoint a trustee to manage or administer the trust. Trustees have ...

Can a Bankruptcy Trustee Block a Discharge?

A bankruptcy trustee is a neutral professional appointed by the federal bankruptcy court to administer your bankruptcy ...

Trustee Not Paying Beneficiary

A trustee is a party who administers the assets of a trust and distributes them to beneficiaries in compliance with ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED