California Probate Code trustee duties explained

California Probate Code Trustee Duties Explained

What are the duties of a trustee in California?

California Probate Code outlines Trustee Duties quite clearly. And now, we’re going to make it even clearer. First off, let’s define some popular terms:

What is a trust?

A trust, or living trust, is a document designed to help families avoid legal process, probate, after a loved one dies. Typically, a trust is put in place to help heirs receive their inheritances faster. As this AARP article states, “A trust involves three parties: You as the creator, the trustee or trustees who agree to manage your assets as directed by the terms of the trust, and the beneficiaries.”

What is a trustee?

The Trustee is the person named to manage the assets within the trust, usually after the decedent passes away. Sometimes, the Trustee is also an heir or beneficiary, like an oldest child. Often, the Trustee is not a beneficiary, nor family member. Instead, they’re a trusted person, whom the decedent felt would act in the best interest of the heirs.

What is a beneficiary or heir?

These are the family members, friends, colleagues, charities, etc. who are to receive assets from the trust.

What is probate?

This is the formal legal process administered by the courts that judicially processes in through the courts the transfer of assets to beneficiaries, the payment of a decedent’s creditor claims, and winding up of a decedent’s affairs.

What is probate code?

These are the laws of each state that dictate probate processes.

What happens when a Trustee takes charge?

The Trustee is legally in charge of all the assets. In some cases, the trust allows the Trustee to even make financial decisions for the beneficiaries, like selling a home or managing financial assets.

However, the California Probate Code Trustee Duties make it very clear that the Trustee is obligated to act in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. The California Probate Code states: “The trustee has a duty to administer the trust solely in the interest of the beneficiaries.”

What does a Trustee have to do first?

These are the overall first immediate steps for a trustee:

  1. Locate Trust documents;
  2. Locate and secure Trust property;
  3. Identify Trust beneficiaries and determine their inheritance rights;
  4. Identify Trust creditors and debts and determine what valid creditor claims exist; and
  5. Prepare the Trust estate to pay debts and make distributions to beneficiaries.

What happens next?

Typically, a Trustee will work with a trust attorney or law firm whom they know will protect them and ensure the trust is administered efficiently and cost-effectively; and, any issues that arise are handled expertly.

Have more questions about trustee duties?

Email or call us at RMO Lawyers. There’s never a cost for a phone call or free consultation.


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RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit


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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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