As the custodians of a family’s philanthropic vision, trustees bear a distinctive responsibility. They navigate the convergence of family values, strategic decision-making, and legal obligations, all while upholding the foundation’s integrity and relevance across generations. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the intricacies of this vital role, highlighting both the challenges and rewards that accompany being a Trustee for a Family Foundation.

What is a Trustee for a Family Foundation

A Trustee for a Family Foundation holds a fiduciary responsibility to oversee and manage the operations of the foundation. This includes making decisions on how the foundation’s assets are invested, determining which organizations or causes will receive funding, and ensuring compliance with all laws and regulations.

The size and structure of a family foundation can significantly influence the duties and responsibilities of a Trustee. A family foundation is typically established as a philanthropic vehicle to support charitable causes and initiatives. The role of a Trustee in a family foundation is crucial in ensuring that the foundation’s mission and goals are carried out effectively.

Here are some ways in which the size and structure of a family foundation can impact the duties of a Trustee:

1. Governance and Decision-Making:

    • In a smaller family foundation, there might be fewer Trustees involved, which can lead to a more streamlined decision-making process.
    • However, in larger family foundations with multiple Trustees, the duties of a Trustee may include participating in board meetings, voting on grant proposals, and providing input on strategic decisions.
    • Trustees may also be responsible for establishing governance policies and ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

2. Asset Management:

    • The size of a family foundation’s endowment or assets can determine the complexity of asset management duties for the Trustee.
    • In larger family foundations with substantial assets, Trustees may need to oversee investment strategies, work with financial advisors, monitor market conditions, and review investment performance.
    • Conversely, in smaller family foundations with limited assets, the Trustee’s focus may be more on managing grants and ensuring prudent financial management.

3. Grantmaking and Impact:

    • The size of a family foundation can influence the scope and scale of its grantmaking activities.
    • Trustees may be responsible for reviewing grant proposals, conducting due diligence on potential grantees, and making funding decisions.
    • In larger foundations, Trustees may focus on evaluating the impact of grants and monitoring the progress of funded programs.
    • In smaller foundations, Trustees may work more closely with grantees to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved.

4. Family Involvement:

    • In some family foundations, Trustees may be family members who are actively involved in the foundation’s activities.
    • The size of the family and their level of engagement can affect the Trustee’s duties.
    • In larger family foundations with multiple generations involved, Trustees may need to facilitate communication, manage conflicts, and ensure smooth succession planning.
    • In smaller foundations, Trustees may have more direct involvement in day-to-day operations and engagement with beneficiaries.

It is important to note that the specific duties of a Trustee in a family foundation can vary based on the foundation’s unique goals, governance structure, and legal requirements. Therefore, it is crucial for Trustees to have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, as well as seek professional guidance, when necessary, to effectively manage the family foundation’s affairs.

Understanding the legal obligations of a Trustee to protect the foundation’s assets.

As a legal representative and fiduciary of a trust, a Trustee has several important legal obligations to fulfill. These obligations may vary depending on the jurisdiction and specific terms of the trust, but here are some common legal duties that Trustees typically have:

  1. Duty of Loyalty: Trustees have a duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and the trust itself. They must put the beneficiaries’ interests ahead of their own and avoid any conflicts of interest.
  2. Duty of Prudence: Trustees are required to exercise reasonable care, skill, and diligence in managing the trust’s assets. They must make informed decisions and act with the same level of prudence that a prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances.
  3. Duty to Follow the Trust Instrument: Trustees must adhere to the terms of the trust as outlined in the trust document. They should understand and respect the intentions of the settlor (the person who created the trust) and ensure that the trust’s assets are used in accordance with those intentions.
  4. Duty of Impartiality: If there are multiple beneficiaries, Trustees have a duty to treat them fairly and impartially. They must avoid favoritism and make decisions that consider the best interests of all beneficiaries.
  5. Duty to Account: Trustees are obligated to keep accurate records of all trust transactions, including income, expenses, and distributions. They must provide regular and comprehensive accountings to the beneficiaries, detailing the trust’s financial activities.
  6. Duty to Preserve and Protect Trust Assets: Trustees have a duty to safeguard the trust’s assets and manage them prudently. They should avoid unnecessary risk and take appropriate steps to protect the assets from loss or damage.
  7. Duty of Confidentiality: Trustees are expected to maintain confidentiality and not disclose sensitive information about the trust, its beneficiaries, or its affairs unless legally required or authorized to do so.
  8. Duty to Act in Good Faith: Trustees must act honestly, in good faith, and with the utmost integrity in all matters relating to the trust. They should exercise their powers in a responsible manner and avoid any self-dealing or improper conduct.
  9. Duty of Communication: Trustees have an obligation to keep the beneficiaries reasonably informed about the trust’s administration, financial status, and important decisions. They should respond to beneficiary inquiries and provide information as needed.

It is important for Trustees to understand and fulfill these legal obligations diligently. If they breach any of these duties, they may be held personally liable and could face legal consequences. Seeking professional advice and guidance, such as from attorneys or financial advisors, can help Trustees navigate their legal responsibilities effectively.

How to Choose a Trustee for Your Foundation

Given the significant responsibilities and duties of a Trustee, it is important to carefully consider who will fill this role within your family foundation. Some key qualities to look for in a potential trustee include:

  • Integrity and trustworthiness
  • A deep understanding of your family’s values and philanthropic goals
  • Financial expertise and sound decision-making skills
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • Commitment to the long-term success of the foundation

If multiple trustees are selected, it is also important to select trustees who can work well together as a team and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Types of Trustees for a Family Foundation: Exploring Various Options

When it comes to trustees for a family foundation, one option is to have a corporate trustee. A corporate trustee is a professional entity that specializes in providing trust and fiduciary services. Here’s a description and review of the different types of trustees, including a corporate trustee, for a family foundation:

  1. Founder/Donor Trustee: The founder or donor trustee is typically the individual or group of individuals who established the family foundation. They have a deep understanding of the foundation’s mission, values, and goals. As trustees, they actively participate in decision-making and ensure the foundation operates in alignment with their vision. Founder trustees bring their personal commitment and passion to the foundation’s work.
  2. Family Trustee: Family trustees are often family members or close relatives who serve as trustees. They help represent the interests of the family and contribute to the foundation’s governance. Family trustees provide insights into the family’s values and philanthropic interests, ensuring that the foundation’s activities align with the family’s objectives. They may bring a sense of continuity and familial perspective to the foundation’s decision-making processes.
  3. Independent Individual Trustee: Independent individual trustees are individuals who are not connected to the family but have expertise in areas relevant to the foundation’s operations, such as philanthropy, finance, law, or governance. They provide an objective viewpoint and help ensure transparency within the foundation. Independent trustees bring professional knowledge and experience, offering guidance on best practices and regulatory compliance. Their input can enhance the foundation’s effectiveness and credibility.
  4. Corporate Trustee: A corporate trustee is a corporate entity specializing in trust and fiduciary services. These entities have the necessary expertise and resources to handle the legal, financial, and administrative aspects of a family foundation. Corporate trustees bring professionalism, efficiency, and institutional expertise to the foundation. Their experience in managing trusts can ensure compliance with legal requirements and relieve the family from the burden of day-to-day administration.

It’s crucial to evaluate the specific needs, goals, and dynamics of the family foundation before deciding whether a corporate trustee is the right fit.

Ultimately, the choice of trustees for a family foundation depends on factors such as the foundation’s size, complexity, goals, and the preferences and capabilities of the family members involved. A combination of different types of trustees, including a corporate trustee, may be a viable option to leverage the strengths and expertise of each trustee type and ensure the success of the family foundation.

In conclusion, being a Trustee for a Family Foundation is a multifaceted and vital role. It requires a deep understanding of familial values, legal obligations, financial management, and relationship-building. However, with proper guidance and support, trustees can successfully navigate these responsibilities and make a lasting impact on their family’s philanthropic legacy for generations to come.

Members Trust Company as Corporate Trustee

At Members Trust Company, our team of experienced and credentialed legal and investment professionals have an obligation to act in the best interest of your beneficiaries, and we’re regularly audited to ensure proper trust administration. We can partner with you to maximize your peace of mind and help protect your family foundation.

As a corporate trustee, our services include:

  • Asset management and investment oversight
  • Administration and recordkeeping
  • Compliance with legal and regulatory requirements

We understand that every family foundation is unique, so we work closely with each client to tailor our services. We are ready to be the trusted partner for your family foundation. For more information, contact us.


Non-deposit investment products available through Members Trust Company are not deposits of or guaranteed by the trust company, a credit union or credit union affiliate, are not insured or guaranteed by the NCUA, FDIC or any other governmental agency and are subject to investment risks including possible loss of the principal amount invested. Members Trust Company, owned and managed by America’s credit unions, is a special purpose federal thrift regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Past performance is not indicative of future results. This is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or tax advice regarding your situation. For legal or tax advice, please consult your attorney and/or accountant. Any opinions expressed are those of the presenter and do not necessarily reflect the position of Members Trust Company. The information above is obtained or compiled from sources we believe to be reliable. We Do Not Guarantee that such information, will be free from errors, omissions, whether human or mechanical, nor do we guarantee their timeliness, accuracy, or completeness.