Guidelines for Individual Executors & Trustees
- Fiduciary - An individual or bank or trust company that acts for the benefit of another. Trustees, executors, and personal representatives are all fiduciaries.
- Grantor - (Also called "settlor" or "trustor") An individual who transfers property to a trustee to hold or own subject to the terms of the trust agreement setting forth your wishes. For income tax purposes the same term is used to mean the person who is taxed on the income from the trust. Confusing, but different concepts.
- Testator - A person who has made a valid will (a woman is sometimes called a "testatrix").
- Beneficiary - A person for whose benefit a will or trust was made; the person who is to receive property, either outright or in trust, now or later.
- Trustee - An individual or bank or trust company that holds legal title to property for the benefit of another and acts according to the terms of the trust. This can be confusing in that you can sometimes be both a trustee and a beneficiary of the same lifetime (inter-vivos) trust you established or a trust established by someone else for you at their death (testamentary trust).
- Executor - (Also called "personal representative;” a woman is sometimes called an "executrix"). An individual or bank or trust company that settles the estate of a testator according to the terms of the will, or if there is no will in accordance with the laws of the decedent’s estate (intestacy), although a person acting in intestacy may be called by a different name, such as administrator.
- Principal and Income - Respectively, the property or capital of an estate or trust and the returns from the property, such as interest, dividends, rents, etc. In some cases, gain resulting from appreciation in value may also be income.
Does the will give everything outright, or does it create new trusts that may continue for several years? Does a trust mandate certain distributions ("All income earned each year is to be paid to my wife, Nancy") or does it leave this to the trustee's discretion ("My trustee shall distribute such income as she believes is necessary for the education and support of my son, Alan, until he reaches age 25")? The document often imparts important directions to the fiduciary, such as which assets should be used to pay taxes and expenses. The document will usually list the fiduciary's powers in some detail.
Most fiduciaries retain an attorney who specializes in the area of trusts and estates to assist them in performing their duties properly. An attorney's advice is very helpful in ensuring that you understand what the will or trust and applicable state law provide. For example, at an initial meeting it is common for the attorney to review step by step many of the key provisions of the will or trust (or both) so that you will understand your role. Be mindful that if you accept the appointment to serve as an executor or trustee, you will be held responsible for understanding and implementing the terms of the trust or will.