Trust administration is the process of carrying out the wishes contained in a trust. That usually involves several steps, which may be spread over long periods of time depending on what the trust requires. Each trust is unique, and the particular requirements contained in your trust will determine how it must be administered and managed. The person who manages the trust is called the trustee, and Georgia estate laws and trust laws impose serious penalties on a trustee that mismanages or harms a trust.
Most often, the trustees we speak with have several goals. Some of the most common are:
- Make sure the trust is managed correctly, make sure that everything is done right, and to stay out of trouble.
- Be fair to the beneficiaries, and keep things as peaceful as possible among all the parties involved.
- Honor the wishes of the person who created the trust, and follow the directives required by the trust.
It is very common for a trustee to be willing to serve, and know that they want to do a good job, but may be at a loss for what to do and how to do it. Some of the most common questions are:
- What are my duties as trustee? Essentially, what must I do and how do I know that I am doing it well?
- What does this particular part of my trust mean? Each trust is unique and as trustee you know that your job is to carry out the instructions of the trust, but what do you do when you do not know what the trust means?
- How do I balance the needs of multiple beneficiaries? It could be that you have to balance the interest of current beneficiaries (who receive income now) and future beneficiaries (called contingent beneficiaries or remainder beneficiaries) who will receive a part of the trust when the current beneficiaries pass away. Or, it could be that you have to balance the funding needs of several current beneficiaries and want to make sure you are apportioning the trust funds fairly and appropriately.
All of these issues are very important because the legal consequences of getting it wrong can be severe. Under Georgia estate laws and trust laws, a trustee owes fiduciary duties to all of the beneficiaries of the trust, current and future. That means that a trustee must always follow the terms of the trust, and place the interests of the beneficiaries first. Unless the trust says otherwise, a trustee must treat all beneficiaries equally and not show favoritism towards any beneficiary at the expense of another.
If a trustee violates the duties imposed by the trust or Georgia law, then a beneficiary could sue the trustee in court, seek to have the trustee removed from office, and request to have other sanctions imposed, such as forcing the trustee to pay damages to the trust from the trustee’s personal funds.
The best solution for a trustee is to have a team of advisors to make sure everything goes smoothly. That way, most common problems can be avoided before they start. In the event that something does become an issue, the trustee is in the best possible position to defend any allegations and will not be caught off guard.
Our law firm sees our role as a partner to the trustee in managing the trust. Our legal team helps make sure everyone understands the terms of the trust and its requirements. We are at the trustee’s side every step of the way so that the trust is administered properly and everything is done in a fair and respectful way. Many times, our attorneys have found that when everyone involved, understands the trust and feels like it is being followed, there is very little conflict. If a dispute does arise, however, our firm is prepared to defend the trustee and protect the trust.
To discuss how our firm can help you make sure your trust administration runs smoothly, please set up a private, confidential consultation with our office.