Difference Between a Beneficiary and a Trustee

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An attorney can help you set up the beneficiaries and trustees for your trust.
An attorney can help you set up the beneficiaries and trustees for your trust. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

People and organizations cannot always look after the assets, property or other advantages they want others to have. The clearest example is if a person passes away or has a severe physical disability. Distance between people and organizations also creates management problems. In these instances, people or organizations may set up a trust. The trust involves both a beneficiary and one or more trustees.

Beneficiary and Grantor Definition

A beneficiary is a person or other legal entity, such as a charity or business, who receives an asset, property or other advantage from another person. The person who provides the asset, property or other advantage is known as the grantor. The grantor usually indicates what the beneficiary is supposed to get and when in a written document. In the instance of a trust, the trust deed is the document that outlines the terms for distribution. Beneficiaries are people or entities the grantor knows and wants to support. If the beneficiary is a person, the beneficiary typically is a family member or close friend. If the beneficiary is a business or other organization, the vision of the organization usually aligns with the philosophies of the grantor. Different types of beneficiaries exist, such as primary and principal. These labels indicate the order of distribution if there are multiple beneficiaries named to the trust or various circumstances under which they receive benefits.

Trustee Definition

A trustee is an individual or legal entity, such as a business or charity, responsible for controlling the assets, property or other advantages held within a trust a grantor wants a beneficiary to receive. The trustee's job is to distribute the assets, property or other advantages the way the grantor wanted as stipulated in the trust deed. He must act in the beneficiary's interests at all times, although the trust deed may allow the trustee to get some compensation for the time and effort taken to administer the trust. A grantor names one or more trustees to the trust when he sets the trust up legally. Trustees are people or organizations the grantor feels will carry out the grantor's wishes and who have strong ethics, legal, organizational and financial skills.

Duties

The primary job of the beneficiary is simply to receive whatever the grantor wants the beneficiary to get. However, to do this, the beneficiary has to familiarize himself with the trust deed terms. The beneficiary also must coordinate with the trustee to receive the benefits. He may need to give the trustee some documentation that he received the assets, property or advantages from the trust. Depending on what the grantor provides through the trust, the beneficiary may have to pay taxes on the trust items.

Trustee Duties

A trustee is a fiduciary of the grantor and beneficiary. He must know the terms of the trust and alert beneficiaries of their entitlement. The trustee may have to file paperwork in court or with other government agencies to transfer legal ownership of trust items to the beneficiary. He also has to keep records of what is happening with the trust, as he has to prove he is following the trust terms and acting in the best interest of the beneficiary. If the beneficiary challenges the trust terms or wants to dissolve the trust, the trustee may have to defend the trust in court, as well -- beneficiaries do not always like the terms of trusts and often have conflicts with the trustees who control them.

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