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What are the difference between joint trustees and co-trustees of a revocable living trust before and after death of a trustee?

San Diego, CA |

Does a joint trustee have a right of survivorship as in joint tenancy?

Attorney Answers 3


  1. Presumably the terms mean the same thing. Normally the reference is to co-trustees. Does the trust that you are referring to say that the two trustees act jointly? In that case, they would be co-trustees.

    Note that it is still possible that the document that you are referring to provides for something else and to be sure, you should have the document reviewed. If you are now administering a trust, you will find that it is much easier if you hire an attorney to assist you.

    A trustee does not have a right of survivorship as in joint tenancy. The terms of the trust dictate what happens uppon the death of the trustor/settlor/grantor. Is the trustee who has died also the trustor/settlor/grantor? Hopefully the trust also provides for a succession of trustees.

    Please see an attorney to assist you.

    DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION PRESENTED HERE IS GENERAL IN NATURE. IT IS NOT INTENDED, NOR SHOULD IT BE CONSTRUED, AS LEGAL ADVICE. THIS RESPONSE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN US. YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY FOR SPECIFIC LEGAL ADVICE ABOUT YOUR PARTICULAR SITUATION.


  2. I agree with Attorney Symons. It is difficult to adequately answer your questions without more facts or the ability to read and review the trust document in detail. The trust governs what happens before and after death. Usually, the trust grantor(s) would serve as trustee(s) during lifetime. In that case, there would obviously be a change in trustee(s) following the grantor's death. The responsibilities of the trustees may change or may be very similar, depending on the provisions of the trust agreement.

    James Frederick

    I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in the subject area in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state.


  3. I agree with attorneys Symons and Frederick (above).

    The word "joint" within the revocable trust setting (similar to the guardian, conservatorship and POA nomination settings; See Cal. Prob. 2101) implies a unanimity requirement for decisionmaking not a right of survivorship. Specifically, when two or more trustees are nominated to act and they cannot agree, neither ... that's right... neither, has authority to act alone. The trust instrument determines the distribution of assets, not the trustee succession.

    When one trustee dies, where unanimity had been required under the trust, you should look back to the Trust instrument for specific direction on who is authorized to act and in what manner. The trust instrument will hopefully specify whether the sole remaining trustee was directed to act alone or with a successor co-trustee. If there is no successor nomination and it is not addressed in the instrument, you may need to file a Cal. Prob. 17200 Petition for instruction, especially if there are adverse interests.

    A unanimity requirement can cause deadlock and failure to act, to the detriment of the estate. In at least one unpublished decision, disgruntled trust beneficiaries successfully charged that the failure of "joint trustees" to act because of their inability to agree constituted a breach of their fiduciary duties. Fiduciary's are wise to obtain counsel to advise them of their duties.

    Do you want accurate, personalized, legal advice that you can rely on? You will have to hire an attorney, not ask on Avvo. I am not your attorney and am not creating an attorney-client relationship by this post. I am merely giving general advice. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement. I am only licensed in California. See also avvo.com Terms and Conditions item 9, incorporated.