What are the duties of a trustee in California?

In California, many people opt to use a revocable trust instead of a will as their primary estate planning vehicle. One of the main advantages of a revocable trust is that it can enable the trustor's estate to avoid probate.

When a trustor creates a trust, they must appoint one or more trustees to manage the assets in the trust. California law places a high level of responsibility on trustees. Trustees have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust. This means that the trustees must always act solely in the interests of the trust beneficiaries. The trustee cannot delegate any duty they can reasonably do on their own.

Under California's probate code, a trustee must do whatever the trust instructs them to do, provided it is legal. The trustee cannot favor the interests of one beneficiary at the expense of another. The trustee must take care to avoid any conflict of interest with the trust beneficiaries. The trustee must not use property in the trust for their personal benefit, or exercise their powers as trustee for personal gain.

The trustee has an obligation to keep trust property separate and not commingle it with anyone else's property. The trustee must use reasonable skill and care in managing the trust assets. The trustee has an obligation to diversify investments, unless doing so would be imprudent.

When drafting a trust, choosing a trustee is a major decision. Some people choose a trusted family member; others choose the trust department of a bank. In either case, the goal is to choose a trustee with the skill and integrity to carry out their duties competently and honestly.

Source: The Superior Court of California, "Probate Trusts," accessed Nov. 21, 2015

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