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Who Can Serve as a Trustee?

A common question arises about who can serve as a trustee in California: can it be an attorney, and if so, what qualifications are required? This post will delve into the roles and qualifications of trustees, particularly focusing on non-relative trustees and the licensing requirements in California.

Who Can Serve as a Trustee?

  • Family Members as Trustees
    • Typically, individuals appoint family members as trustees due to the trust and understanding of personal and financial matters. Family members do not require special licensing to serve as trustees.
  • Non-Relatives as Trustees
    • When someone appoints a non-relative as a trustee, specific qualifications come into play. In California, a non-relative must be a licensed private professional fiduciary to manage an estate.

Private Professional Fiduciaries

  • Definition and Role
    • A private professional fiduciary is a person licensed by the state of California to manage estates, trusts, conservatorships, and powers of attorney for non-relatives. They possess the necessary education and background to serve in fiduciary capacities.
  • Licensing Requirements
    • To become a private professional fiduciary, one must complete specific educational programs and pass state exams to ensure they are qualified to manage and protect the interests of the estate or trust.

Attorneys as Trustees

  • Qualifications
    • Attorneys in California are uniquely positioned when it comes to serving as fiduciaries. They do not require additional licensing to serve as trustees, executors, or conservators, unlike other non-relatives.
  • Why Choose an Attorney?
    • Individuals with complex financial lives often prefer appointing an attorney as their trustee. Attorneys bring a deep understanding of legal and financial matters, which is crucial for managing complicated estates.
    • Another reason to choose an attorney is when family members are unwilling or unable to manage the intricacies of the estate. Attorneys ensure that the estate is handled professionally and in accordance with the law.

Choosing a Trustee

  • Considerations
    • When deciding who should serve as your trustee, consider the following:
      • Trustworthiness: The person should have a strong ethical foundation and be reliable.
      • Capability: They should have the necessary knowledge or willingness to learn about managing an estate.
      • Interest and Availability: The individual should have the time and interest to devote to managing the trust effectively.
  • Non-Family Members
    • If choosing a non-family member, ensure they are either a licensed professional fiduciary or an attorney. This guarantees they meet the state’s requirements and are capable of handling the responsibilities.


Understanding who can serve as a trustee in California is crucial for proper estate planning. While family members often serve in this role, non-relatives must meet specific licensing requirements unless they are attorneys. For complex financial situations, appointing an attorney or a licensed professional fiduciary can ensure the estate is managed effectively and legally.