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What Are the Duties of a Trustee?

What Are the Duties of a Trustee?

Trustees play a critical role in managing trusts, ensuring that the assets are administered in the best interests of the beneficiaries. As a trustee, it is vital to understand your responsibilities and potential liabilities to effectively manage the trust. This guide will provide an overview of the key duties and obligations of trustees, as well as tips to help you navigate the complex world of trust management.


What is a Trustee?

A trustee is a person or entity appointed to manage assets held in a trust for the benefit of its beneficiaries. The trustee is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the trust, including managing investments, making distributions, and ensuring compliance with the trust’s terms and applicable laws.


Trustee Duties

As a trustee, you have fiduciary duties to the trust’s beneficiaries. This means you must act in good faith, with care, loyalty, and prudence, and always act in the beneficiaries’ best interests. You must also manage the trust’s assets in a prudent and diligent manner, avoiding any conflicts of interest or self-dealing.


What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Trustee?

Understanding the Trust Deed

The foundation of any trust is the trust deed, a legal document that outlines the terms and conditions governing the trust. As a trustee, it is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with the deed’s provisions and ensure that you follow its guidelines when managing the trust’s assets. Make sure to consult with legal and financial advisors if you have any doubts or questions about the trust deed, as they can help ensure its legal viability. 


Duty of Loyalty

The duty of loyalty is a crucial aspect of a trustee’s responsibilities. It requires you to always act in the best interests of the trust’s beneficiaries. This means you must avoid conflicts of interest, self-dealing and any actions that could compromise the beneficiaries’ interests. Transparency, open communication and a commitment to ethical conduct are vital to fulfilling your duty of loyalty. If a trustee is to act not in the best interest of the beneficiaries, that could be seen as a breach and need to be remedied. 


Prudent Investment Management

Trustees are responsible for managing the trust’s investments prudently and diligently. This requires a diversified investment strategy that balances risk and reward, taking into account the trust’s goals and the needs of the beneficiaries. A trustee should consult with financial advisors and investment professionals to develop and maintain an appropriate investment plan. If it is to become a self-managed trust, this needs to be set out in legally bound writing to set out the lengths to which self-management of investments will take place. 


Regular Accounting and Record-Keeping

Accurate and timely accounting is essential for effective trust management. As a trustee, you are required to maintain comprehensive records of the trust’s financial transactions, including income, expenses, investments and distributions. Regular accounting helps ensure transparency and enables you to identify and address any financial issues that may arise. Transparency in this regard is of the utmost importance and information should be accessible by beneficiaries at their request. 


Communication with Beneficiaries

Open communication with the trust’s beneficiaries is crucial for maintaining trust and ensuring that their needs are met. As a trustee, you should provide regular updates on the trust’s performance, address any concerns or questions and involve the beneficiaries in decision-making processes when appropriate. This does include conversations and decisions around elements that may or may not affect the trust’s future performance. 


Does a Trustee have a Fiduciary Duty?

Yes. Trustees have a fiduciary duty in that they must ensure the timely distribution of trust assets. Trustees are responsible for distributing the trust’s assets to beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust deed. This may include making regular payments or distributing assets upon the occurrence of specific events. Ensuring timely and accurate distributions is crucial for maintaining the trust’s integrity and fulfilling your fiduciary duties. Any neglect of fulfilment in the fiduciary duties may be classed as a breach and need to be rectified. 


What Happens if a Trustee Breaches their Duty?

As a trustee, you can be held personally liable for any breaches of your fiduciary duties or mismanagement of the trust’s assets. To mitigate potential liabilities, it is essential to seek legal and financial advice, adhere to the trust deed and maintain open communication with beneficiaries. Additionally, consider obtaining trustee liability insurance to further protect yourself from potential legal claims.

Being a trustee is a significant responsibility that requires a deep understanding of fiduciary duties, obligations and potential liabilities. Managing a trust’s assets and ensuring they are administered in the beneficiaries’ best interests demands prudence, loyalty, transparency, ethical conduct and good communication. Trustees must understand and follow the trust deed, develop an appropriate investment strategy, maintain accurate accounting and record-keeping, distribute trust assets timely and manage conflicts of interest. 

Breaching these duties can have severe consequences and trustees can be held personally liable. Seeking legal and financial advice, maintaining open communication and obtaining trustee liability insurance are essential measures to mitigate potential liabilities. Ultimately, fulfilling these obligations is critical for preserving the trust’s integrity and the beneficiaries’ interests.


Exercising Reasonable Care: A Trustee’s Commitment to Beneficiaries and Legal Compliance

In managing a trust, trustees must exercise reasonable care and diligence to protect the interests of the trust beneficiaries. This is seen as a fundamental duty and a legal duty that extends to all aspects of trust management. For business owners who act as trustees, it’s imperative to separate personal business interests from those of the trust to avoid potential conflicts. This separation ensures that decisions are made purely in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Seeking legal advice is not just recommended; it’s often necessary to navigate the complex legal landscape surrounding trusts. Legal counsel can provide crucial guidance to ensure that trustees are fully compliant with their obligations and are making informed decisions that benefit the trust and its beneficiaries.


Looking for expert wills and estate law advice?

Strategic Lawyers is a law firm based in Townsville, QLD. Our team of highly experienced will and estate lawyers can assist you with a wide range of legal services, including Wills and Estate Law. We understand the challenges that come with wills, estate planning and other legal matters and strive to guide you through the process to achieve the best possible outcome. Contact us at 13 14 LAW or (07) 4795 1114 to arrange an initial consultation with one of our qualified lawyers.