Funny thing about Trustees, they are expected to seek help, just not too much help. Generally, Trustees are not allowed to delegate their duties (see Probate Code section 16012). The rules state that anything the Trustee can “reasonably” be required to personally perform cannot be delegated. And the Trustee can never delegate the entire administration of the Trust to someone else.
Where a Trustee does delegate some matter to an agent or co-Trustee, the Trustee still has a duty to supervise that person in the performance of the delegated matter. That means a Trustee cannot simply delegate and forget about it. The Trustee is required to oversee the agent and make sure that the job is being done in the best interests of the Trust.
There is one big loophole this the nondelegation rule: investment and management decisions. Under the Uniform Prudent Investor act, a Trustee has the power to delegate certain financial decisions (see Probate Code section 16052). This exception allows a Trustee to delegate financial decisions “as prudent under the circumstances.” But the Trustee retains the duty to (1) select a good agent to act for the Trust, (2) establish the scope and terms of the delegation, and (3) periodically review the agent’s performance.
Here’s where things get interesting. Where a Trustee has properly delegated financial decisions to an agent, the Trustee CANNOT be held liable for those investment decisions. That can be a shocking result for a beneficiary who seeks to hold a Trustee liable for bad investment decisions. Of course, the agent to whom investment decisions were delegated can be held liable for bad investment decisions. But that just means the beneficiary may find himself suing a large financial firm rather than the Trustee.
The good news is that financial advisors rarely will agree to accept delegated financial responsibility for a Trust–primarily because of the liability involved in doing so. Yet, so often Trustees who make bad investment choices will try to pass the buck to the financial advisor. It then becomes the beneficiaries job to determine whether the investment power was delegated or not. It could mean the difference between suing a Trustee or suing a large financial institution.
If you happen to be a Trustee, choose your delegation wisely. Even with the job being handed off to someone else, you may still be on the hook for a bad decision.