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The Quintessence of Trustee Duties: A Comprehensive Insight

Janina White

7 Sept 2023

Navigating the maze of legal responsibilities as a trustee is a daunting challenge. Whether you are a professional or a lay trustee, understanding your duties and powers is paramount. This article provides an overview of the key areas every trustee must be acquainted with, ranging from maintenance to the advanced capital, and most importantly, understanding fiduciary duties and the standard duty of care.

1. Power of Maintenance

For many, ensuring the welfare of minor beneficiaries is at the heart of setting up a trust. Trustees, in their pivotal role, have the authority to use the available income to cater to the maintenance, education, or other benefits for these minors. It’s not just a matter of discretion; it's enshrined in law. As per S. 31 of the Trustee Act 1925, amended by s. 8 of the Inheritance and Trustees powers Act (ITPA) 2014, trustees wield this power “as they see fit”. Income not channeled for their upkeep must be judiciously reinvested, safeguarding their future.

2. Power to Advance Capital

Trusts, in essence, are meant to be flexible financial tools. While income can be used for maintenance, capital can be advanced to beneficiaries, whether their interest is vested or contingent. The S. 32 Trustee Act 1925, as refined by s. 9 ITPA 2014, grants trustees this autonomy. But with great power comes greater responsibility. The decision to advance capital has its nuances and must be aligned with the trust deed's interpretation, as depicted in the case of Henley v Wardell. Advancing capital without the essential nods, even under the guise of uncontrolled discretion, can render the action invalid, as witnessed in Pilkington v Inland Revenue Commissioners.

3. Fiduciary Duties: The Heartbeat of Trustee Responsibilities

At the crux of trusteeship is the sacred principle of fiduciary duty. It's a commitment to selflessness, integrity, and unwavering focus on beneficiaries' best interests. Based on the landmark ruling in Bray v Ford, trustees are bound by two golden rules: steer clear of conflicts and never profit from their fiduciary position.

4. Duty of Care: The Trustee's Balancing Act

It isn't enough for trustees to be just faithful; they must be skillful too. A trustee's role isn't merely symbolic; it's active. As outlined in S. 1 of the Trustee Act 2000 and the case of Head v Gould, whether an expert or a novice, trustees are obligated to exercise reasonable care and skill. The benchmark? Think of an 'ordinary man of business', ensuring the assets of another are in safe hands.


Being a trustee is not merely an honorary title but a role packed with responsibilities. It's about understanding and wielding the powers of maintenance and advancing capital judiciously, all while ensuring fiduciary duties are upheld and the necessary care is taken. In this intricate dance of trust and duty, it's imperative for every trustee to be well-versed with the legal framework, ensuring they operate within the bounds of the law while prioritizing the best interests of beneficiaries.

Janina is a solicitor registered in England and Wales, and the Republic of Ireland, and a member of the American Bar Association. Her extensive legal expertise spans Corporate Law, Sanctions, and Corporate Governance. Beyond law, Janina is a Chartered Company Secretary and showcases a passion for global cultures, evident in her fluency in eight languages. Advising multinational giants, her unique blend of legal acumen and cultural insight sets her apart, offering readers a rich, global perspective on her subjects. Janina is also a private investigator and a member of the Association of British Investigators and she is actively using the investigative techniques (including the use of the Artificial Intelligence, OSINT and HUMINT)  in her legal work.

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