What is an Independent Trustee?

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An independent trustee is an individual or a professional entity appointed to oversee and manage the assets held in a trust or estate. Their primary responsibility is to carry out the wishes and intentions of the grantor (the person creating the trust) as outlined in the trust document. An independent trustee acts as a fiduciary and must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries while adhering to the terms and conditions of the trust. This means that an independent trustee might not have a family relationship to the grantor.

What is the role of an Independent Trustee? 

Here are some key aspects of the role of an independent trustee in estate planning:


An independent trustee’s role is characterized by a lack of personal or financial interest in the trust and its assets. This objectivity holds significant importance as it ensures that their decisions are based solely on the provisions outlined in the trust and, above all, on the best interests of the beneficiaries.

Managing Trust Assets: 

While being named a trustee can be considered a sign of respect, it does come with very real responsibilities. The trustee is responsible for managing and safeguarding the assets held within the trust. This can include a wide range of assets, such as property, investments, bank accounts, and other valuables. Their duty is to prudently invest and manage these assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The trustee must keep the beneficiaries informed about the trust’s activities and provide regular reports on the trust’s financial status and performance.

Distributing Trust Assets: 

Depending on the terms of the trust, the independent trustee may be responsible for distributing income or principal from the trust to the beneficiaries at specified intervals or under certain conditions. They must follow the guidelines set forth in the trust document for making distributions. 

Tax Planning and Reporting: 

The trustee often needs to coordinate with tax professionals to ensure proper tax planning and reporting for the trust. They are responsible for filing tax returns for the trust and ensuring compliance with relevant tax laws.

Resolving Disputes: 

In the event of conflicts or disputes among beneficiaries or other parties involved with the trust, the independent trustee may act as a neutral third party to help resolve issues and maintain harmony.

The appointment of an independent trustee in estate planning is especially important in cases where complex family dynamics, substantial assets, or potential conflicts exist among beneficiaries. Their impartiality and expertise in trust management can help ensure that the grantor’s intentions are carried out faithfully, and the beneficiaries’ interests are protected throughout the trust’s lifespan.

What is a Co-Trustee?

Certain trusts are structured with co-trustees, meaning they have multiple trustees managing the trust together. Unless the trust explicitly states otherwise, co-trustees share the same fiduciary duties as a single trustee and hold equal decision-making authority.

Incorporating co-trustees into a trust comes with its share of advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, having two or more trustees can alleviate the burden on a single individual and potentially harness the complementary skills of different people. Moreover, it can mitigate family tension, as, for instance, appointing both siblings to serve as trustees avoids putting a parent in a position of choosing between them.

Nevertheless, the attempt to maintain family harmony through co-trusteeship might inadvertently result in family members conflicting and facing difficulties reaching consensus regarding trust-related decisions. This family discord, coupled with unresolved co-trustee disagreements, can lead to prolonged and expensive legal battles.

As families evolve over time, it’s essential to safeguard your family’s future and ensure its protection. Taking proactive steps will provide you with peace of mind, knowing that you’ve taken every measure possible to secure your family’s well-being. This is the essence of Estate Planning and naming trustees is a key factor we consider with our clients in Andover and through Massachusetts

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