Trustees and executors, respectively, administer trusts and wills. Both are fiduciaries, meaning that they are in a position of great trust. The court expects each of these individuals to adhere to high standards when carrying out their multiple responsibilities.
If you’ve been asked to serve as a trustee or an executor over someone’s estate, it’s important to fully understand what’s expected.
Who can be a fiduciary?
It’s a great honor for a testator or trustor to hold you in such high esteem that they’d appoint you to the role of trustee or executor.
While trustors and testators often select friends or relatives to serve in these fiduciary roles, it’s not uncommon for them to appoint attorneys, real estate agents, brokers, accountants, business advisers, bankers and financial advisers to serve in this role.
What role does a fiduciary play in an estate or trust?
California residents must appoint an executor when drafting their will. That appointee has the fiduciary responsibility to settle the testator’s estate per their directions and wishes — and the law. California probate judges may also appoint an executor to fulfill their fiduciary duties to administer an estate if a person dies intestate (without a will). More than one individual or institution can act as an executor, including one of the above-referenced professionals, a trust company or a bank.
A trustee is responsible for managing any assets contained in the living trust as per the trust agreement. A trustor will generally serve as their revocable living trust’s own trustee up until their incapacitation or death, then have an appointed successor step into their role. A trustor must appoint a trustee to administer an irrevocable living trust, however, from the moment of its creation.
Why does it matter who you pick as your fiduciary?
You shouldn’t take choosing a fiduciary lightly. Whether you’re establishing a trust or setting up your will, you need to know that the person you put in charge will honor their commitment, follow the law, follow your directives and not be self-serving. Otherwise, your heirs may face significant problems in the future and your estate or trust may not accomplish your goals.
Working with an experienced attorney can help you sort through your options and make informed decisions.