Last week, we posted the first entry in the Slinde Nelson primer on trust dispute litigation. Trusts are a powerful tool for estate planning, but they can be confusing not only to the settlor (the person who creates the trust) but to the beneficiaries of the trust. Some of that confusions is unavoidable for more complicated financial trusts. But, as a Portland trust dispute attorney, I can tell you that much of the confusion can be avoided through a very rudimentary understanding of how trusts work.
The first entry in this series defined what a trustee is. This entry discusses what a trustee does.
In the most basic sense, a trustee carries out the desires of the settlor as outlined in the trust document. What does this mean? The trustee is charged with using their best efforts to meet the terms of the trust. But, what if the trustee cannot discern the intent of the settlor? The standard is one of reasonableness. A trustee who manages the trust reasonably and interprets its terms according to the same standard is likely to have complied with their fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries.a
Specifically, trustees manage the assets of the trust, including maximizing profit and overseeing dispersal when the time comes. Often, the trustee serves over the estate of a deceased individual. Sometimes the trustee is a family friend, sometimes it is a professional, like an attorney or someone who serves as a trustee for a living.
Trust litigation in Seattle or Portland, or anywhere for that matter, is a result of several of the factors I just described. Any time you are trying to interpret the intent of a deceased person and manage assets for that person's beneficiaries, the potential for disputes arises.