As a trustee, you are responsible for managing the trust and working with the beneficiaries. You have a fiduciary duty, or a legal obligation, to act solely in the interest of the beneficiaries by fulfilling the instructions of the trust as the trustor has required. A trustee must be respectful and careful, loyal, and impartial when serving as the trustee, and cannot take advantage of his or her trusted position to self-deal or glean benefits for him or herself from the trust. Developing a full understanding of what the legal obligations are as a trustee can be confusing, especially if you have limited legal experience dealing with trusts. An experienced estate planning and trusts lawyer at can assist you.
A Breach of Fiduciary Duty Opens Trustees Up To Personal Liability
Trustees can be held personally liable for acts, or failures to act, as a trustee when the trustee does not carefully and diligently adhere to the trustee’s duties. When a trustee commits a breach of his or her fiduciary duty, the trustee opens him or herself up to liability for his or her actions taken while acting as the trustee. Examples where a trustee can be held personally liable for acts done while acting as a trustee include the following:
- A trustee may be held personally liable if there is a conflict of interest biasing the trustee’s judgment when it comes to the interests of the trust. Self-dealing, or making decisions or investments using the trust’s funds that in some way benefit the trustee either directly or indirectly will expose the trustee to liability;
- A trustee can be held personally liable for any interest and/or penalties that accrue for taxes filings that are made late. Liability exists because filing the appropriate tax forms on behalf of the trust is a responsibility that lies with the trustee.
- A trustee could be held financially liable for losses on stock diversifications on behalf of the trust, or a failure to diversify, if losses are substantial. The trustee has an obligation to serve in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries, and failing to diversify when stocks are concentrated in a single company can lead to a significant loss in value of the trust.
- A trustee can be held liable for commingling personal finances and the trust finances, especially in situations where the trustee is a family member to the beneficiaries. A trustee can avoid the appearance of impropriety by maintaining clear and thorough accounting records of the finances of the trust, and clear documentation regarding his or her personal finances.
Speak with an Illinois Estate Planning Lawyer Today
If you have concerns that your trustee is in breach of his or her fiduciary duties, or if you are a trustee with concerns about a course of action for the trust you manage, please feel free to contact one of our experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys today. Our firm serves the communities of Inverness, Palatine, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Long Grove, Kenilworth, Riverwoods, Barrington, South Barrington, and Mount Prospect.
About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.