Understanding the Extent of a Trustee’s Authority Over Trust Assets

When establishing a trust, individuals often prioritize specifying how their assets will be managed and distributed. A crucial aspect of this process involves designating a trustee—an individual or entity responsible for managing the trust assets and executing the wishes outlined in the trust document.

But what authority does a trustee actually possess over the assets within a trust? Let’s delve into the depths of a trustee’s role and authority concerning trust assets.

  1. Defined by the Trust Agreement

The authority of a trustee is primarily governed by the terms laid out in the trust agreement. This legal document outlines the specific powers granted to the trustee. These powers may include investment decisions, asset management, distributions to beneficiaries, and more.

  1. Fiduciary Responsibility

Trustees are fiduciaries, meaning they are legally bound to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and adhere to the instructions provided in the trust document. Their decisions must prioritize the beneficiaries’ welfare, and they must manage the assets prudently and responsibly.

  1. Discretionary Powers

In some trusts, trustees have discretionary powers. This gives them the authority to make judgment-based decisions regarding distributions, investments, or other matters outlined in the trust. However, this discretion must align with the overall goals and provisions of the trust.

  1. Limitations and Restrictions

Trust documents can impose limitations on a trustee’s authority. These limitations might specify certain assets that the trustee cannot distribute or may outline conditions under which distributions can be made. Additionally, trustees must comply with legal requirements and cannot act beyond the scope of their authority.

  1. Duties and Responsibilities

Apart from managing assets, trustees have administrative duties, such as record-keeping, tax filings, and communication with beneficiaries. They’re accountable for providing transparent reports detailing trust activities and financial status to beneficiaries.

  1. Prudent Asset Management

Trustees are responsible for managing trust assets with diligence and care. This includes making informed investment decisions, avoiding conflicts of interest, and maintaining records of all transactions.

  1. Termination or Removal

In certain circumstances, beneficiaries or a court may petition to remove or replace a trustee. This action might be warranted if the trustee fails to fulfill their obligations, breaches fiduciary duties, or acts against the trust’s interests.


In summary, a trustee’s authority over trust assets is guided by the trust agreement, fiduciary responsibilities, and legal parameters. Their role involves a careful balance of exercising discretion within the confines of the trust’s directives and always prioritizing the beneficiaries’ welfare.

When setting up a trust, seeking legal counsel can ensure the trust agreement accurately reflects your intentions and provides clear guidance for the trustee. Understanding the trustee’s authority and responsibilities is fundamental to effective trust management and asset distribution. The Davis Schilken, PC team is here to help! Give our office a call to set up a no obligation meeting (303)670-9855. We make estate planning simple.