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By: Scott Grossman on September 15th, 2016

Three Rules of Thumb for Every Co-Trustee

Serving as a trustee of your loved one’s trust may feel overwhelming for those who have never administered a trust in the past. Trustees must understand and comply with the many rules and responsibilities associated with this important rule. This is especially true when multiple trustees are serving simultaneously therefore it is important to understand some co-trustee rules first.

Three Important Guidelines for Co-Trustees in California

Co-trustees of a trust may be unclear as to what their obligations are when serving jointly. The following are three important co-trustee rules of thumb that  every co-trustee should be aware of:

  1. Trustees are granted certain powers when it comes to trust administration. Unless the trust instrument states otherwise, any power that is held by two or more trustees may only be exercised by their unanimous action.
  2. When there are multiple trustees appointed under a trust and a vacancy occurs in the office of a co-trustee, many trusts will dictate how that vacancy should be filled. If the trust does not address how the vacancy should be filled, the remaining co-trustee or co-trustees may act on behalf of the trust as if they are the only trustees.
  3. In some cases, co-trustees may have been appointed, but one such trustee later becomes incapacitated or is unable to serve in the role. This may occur if the trustee is absent, ill, or otherwise temporarily incapacitated. In those cases, unless the trust instrument states otherwise, the remaining co-trustee or co-trustees may act on behalf of the trust. They may act on behalf of the trust as if they were the only trustees when it is necessary to accomplish the purposes of the trust or to avoid irreparable injury to the trust property.

Since these co-trustee rules can be changed by the person who created the trust at the time it was drafted, it is important to have an attorney carefully review the trust instrument before you proceed. The trust may dictate that only co-trustees can act, or it may name specific individuals to serve as successor trustees.

Understanding what to do when serving as a trustee is not always easy. Fortunately, trustees are entitled to seek guidance from experienced attorneys. We have assisted many trustees in successfully administering trusts in California.

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