Trust Administration 101
Fidelis Law PLLC assists many individuals and families with setting up a wide variety of trusts. However, it is important to understand that establishing a trust (the drafting of the documents, signing of the documents, and funding of initial trust assets) is only the beginning. The process that follows the is what is known as "trust administration."
What is trust administration?
Trust administration covers a wide variety of actions and processes but can be most easily simplified to the management and distribution of trust assets. When an individual has a Last Will & Testament, the management and distribution of assets does not occur until the testator passes away and the Will goes through the probate process. Trusts, in the alternative, require administrative actions to be taken for entire the life of the trust, which starts at the execution of the trust and can span for generations thereafter.
There are three key parties involved during the lifetime of a trust – the grantors, the trustees, and the beneficiaries. Trust administration involves all three, as it is the trustee administering the trust in a manner that honors the grantors’ intent for the management and distribution of trust assets to the beneficiaries. Trust administration can include actions such as:
- Filing and providing annual accountings/filings
- Establishing and funding sub-trusts
- Obtaining federal tax identification numbers for the trust or sub-trust
- Protecting/defending trust assets against creditors or other third parties
- Appointment and/or resignation of trustees and successor trustees
- Managing and distributing trust assets amongst designated beneficiaries
Potential complications to be aware of
In a perfect world, the trustees and beneficiaries share a common understanding of how the trust should function and the administrative processes associated therewith. However, there are times when this is not the case, either because of disagreements amongst the parties, ambiguities in trust language, decisions on the best courses of management/disbursement, etc. As a result, the process of trust administration often requires the trustee (and sometimes the beneficiaries) to seek legal and/or financial counsel to help advise them on these matters and how best to take the administrative actions described herein.