The Duties of a Trustee
THE DUTIES OF A TRUSTEE
General Duties of Trustees
Trustees have certain duties (some of which are (fiduciary). These include the duty to:
- Carry out the expressed terms of the trust instrument
- Defend the trust
- Prudently invest trust assets
- Be impartial among beneficiaries
- Account for actions and keep beneficiaries informed
- Be loyal
- Not delegate
- Not profit
- Not be in a conflict of interest position
- Administer in the best interest of the beneficiaries
The terms of instrument that creates the trust may narrow or expand these duties—but in most instances they cannot be eliminated completely. Corporate trustees, typically trust departments at large banks, often have very narrow duties, limited to those the trust indenture explicitly defines.
A trustee carries the fiduciary responsibility and liability to use the trust assets according to the provisions of the trust instrument (and often regardless of their own or the beneficiaries’ wishes). The trustee may find himself liable to claimants, prospective beneficiaries, or third parties. In the event that a trustee incurs a liability (for example, in litigation, or for taxes, or under the terms of a lease) in excess of the trust property they hold, they may find themselves personally liable for the excess.
Trustees are generally held to a “prudent person” standard in regard to meeting their fiduciary responsibilities, though investment, illegal, and other professionals can be held to a lower standard commensurate with their higher expertise. Trustees can be paid for their time and trouble in performing their duties only if the trust specifically provides for payment. It is common for lawyers to draft will trusts so as to permit such payment, and to take office accordingly: this may be an unnecessary expense for small estates.
A fiduciary duty is a legal or ethical relationship of confidence or trusts regarding the management of money or property between two or more parties, most commonly a fiduciary and a principal. One party, for example a corporate trust company or the trust department of a bank, holds a fiduciary relation or acts in a fiduciary capacity to another, such as one whose funds are entrusted to it for investment. In a fiduciary relation one person, in a position of vulnerability, justifiably reposes confidence, good faith, reliance and trust in another whose aid, advice or protection is sought in some matter. In such a relation good conscience requires one to act at all times for the sole benefit and interests of another, with loyalty to those interests.
A fiduciary is someone who has undertaken to act for and on behalf of another in a particular matter in circumstances that give rise to a relationship of trust and confidence.
A fiduciary duty is the highest standard of care at either equity or law. A fiduciary is expected to be extremely loyal to the person to whom he owes the duty (the “principal”): he must not put his personal interests before the duty and must not profit from his position as a fiduciary, unless the principal consents. The word itself comes originally from the Latin fides meaning faith and fiducia meaning trust.
In English common law the fiduciary relation is arguably the most important concept within the portion of the legal system known as equity. In the United Kingdom, the Judicature Acts merged the courts of equity (historically based in England’s Court of Chancery) with the courts of common law, and as a result the concept of fiduciary duty also became usable in common law courts.
When a fiduciary duty is imposed, equity requires a stricter standard of behaviour than the comparable tortious duty of care at common law. It is said the fiduciary has a duty not to be in a situation where personal interests and fiduciary duty conflict, a duty not to be in a situation where his fiduciary duty conflicts with another fiduciary duty, and a duty not to profit from his fiduciary position without express knowledge and consent. A fiduciary cannot have a conflict of interest. It has been said that fiduciaries must conduct themselves “at a level higher than that trodden by the crowd” and that “the distinguishing or overriding duty of a fiduciary is the obligation of undivided loyalty.”
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