Understanding Fiduciaries in an Estate Planning Context

A fiduciary is a person whom you appoint to manage certain affairs for you in the event that you are no longer able to handle them yourself. It is a position that involves both legal and ethical responsibilities to uphold someone else’s interest above one’s own, avoiding any actual or apparent conflict between the two, as an estate lawyer, like from Yee Law Group, can explain.

When you create an estate plan, there are many situations in which you need to appoint people to act as fiduciaries in the event that you either die or are no longer mentally competent to make decisions for yourself. Here are some of the fiduciary roles that may need to be filled when making your estate plan. You can appoint the same person to more than one fiduciary role, or you can name a different fiduciary for each.

Health Care Agent

There are many different names for this fiduciary role; you may hear them referred to as surrogates or proxies in addition to health care agents. Regardless of the terminology used, this person has the responsibility to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and/or see that health care providers comply with the wishes you have expressed in an advance medical directive. You cannot choose a doctor involved in your care as a healthcare agent or proxy, as that would represent a conflict of interest.


A trustee is someone in charge of administering a trust. There are different kinds of trusts available. If you create a living trust, you may fulfill the role of trustee as long as you remain living. However, you must name someone to take over such responsibilities after you die. This person is known as a successor trustee and must follow your instructions in administering the estate and distributing the property it contains.


An executor is to a will what a trustee is to a trust. The difference is that a will only takes effect once you die, so you cannot serve as your own executor. The responsibility of the executor is to gather the assets identified in your will, pay off any outstanding debts, and then distribute what remains to your named beneficiaries.

An executor is also called a personal representative in some jurisdictions. If you do not have a will, the court will still appoint someone to manage your estate and to distribute your property according to the laws of intestate succession. In this instance, the fiduciary is called an administrator.

Contact a lawyer with questions about fiduciaries or other aspects of your estate plan. A good attorney can help you make appropriate choices.