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Overview of the powers and duties of trustees

Many Houston residents and other Texans may rightly choose to create a trust as their primary estate planning vehicle and will need to have some idea of what exactly a trustee can do and is expected do in order to pick the right person for the job. Other Texas residents may know or even suddenly that they have been named as a trustee for a loved one's trust.

The powers and duties of a trustee are described in the Texas Property Code. The powers listed there are broad, and the duties listed are numerous; in short, the exact nature of a trustee's powers and duties can raise complex issues and can in many cases even lead to trust litigation. Moreover, it is important to remember that the document creating the trust can itself limit or modify these powers and duties somewhat.

Speaking very basically, a trustee has the power to do what he or she needs to do to manage the property in the trust. This means, for example, that if the trust includes a piece of real estate, then the trustee can do what he or she needs to do to keep any building in good repair and to dispose of or legally modify the real estate. Other powers include things like the ability to purchase insurance. It is noteworthy that the trustee also has the ability to sue and be sued so that the trustee can defend the trust's legal interests.

With the power to manage the property, however, comes the duty of the trustee to do so in good faith and on behalf of all of those who stand to benefit from the trust. Most obviously, a trustee cannot dip in to the trust for personal use or otherwise engage in flagrant self-dealing; however, other duties are less obvious and may not occur even to a well-meaning trustee.

Trustees, executors and fiduciaries have a lot of power but also a lot of responsibilities; in the case of a trust, these responsibilities can last for years. A trustee often will need the assistance of a qualified attorney in order to carry out his or her responsibilities effectively.

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