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Bolstering Trust with Beneficiaries: Trustee Transparency and the Importance of Annual Accountings

Brian P. Eagan Partner

Trustees play a critical role in managing and distributing the assets of a trust in accordance with the trust’s terms and the best interests of the beneficiaries. A key aspect of fulfilling this responsibility is providing regular information and annual accountings to the beneficiaries. This practice is not only a legal obligation in many jurisdictions, but a cornerstone of building trust between the trustees and the beneficiaries and avoiding litigation.

Transparency in Trust Administration

Transparency is fundamental in trust administration. When trustees regularly communicate with beneficiaries and provide detailed reports about the trust’s activities, assets, and financial status, it fosters a relationship of openness and trust. Beneficiaries are entitled to know how the trust is being managed, including any income earned, expenses incurred, and distributions made. This information allows them to feel secure that the trustee is acting in their best interests and adhering to the terms of the trust.

Annual Accountings: A Legal and Ethical Duty

Annual accountings are a formal mechanism through which trustees can fulfill their duty of transparency. In Nevada, a trustee is obligated to provide an accounting to the trust’s beneficiaries no more than once per calendar year, absent a provision in the trust to the contrary or upon a showing of good cause. Both Nevada law and most standard trusts require accountings to include:

  • A comprehensive inventory of the trust’s assets.
  • Details of income and expenses in the accounting period, including any fees paid to the trustee and or the trustee’s professional advisors such as attorneys and accountants.
  • A record of distributions made to beneficiaries.
  • A summary of any changes in the trust’s assets over the accounting period.

By providing this information annually, trustees can ensure that beneficiaries are well-informed about the trust’s status and performance. It also alerts beneficiaries to possible issues regarding the trust’s performance or seemingly irregular expenses or disbursements.

Reducing the Risk of Litigation

One of the primary benefits of maintaining transparency and providing regular accountings is the reduction of potential conflicts and litigation. Secrecy or lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings, suspicions, and distrust among beneficiaries. When beneficiaries feel that information is being withheld or that the trustee is not acting in their best interests, they are more likely to seek legal recourse. This can be true even where the trustees have faithfully adhered to their fiduciary obligations and managed the trust in a reasonable manner.

Regular, detailed communication helps mitigate these risks by:

  • Clarifying the trustee’s actions and decisions, making it clear that they are in line with the trust’s terms and legal requirements.
  • Addressing concerns early on, allowing for any issues to be resolved informally before they escalate, including the filing of a court action.
  • Demonstrating accountability, reassuring beneficiaries that the trust’s assets are being managed responsibly and ethically.


In conclusion, the importance of a trustee providing information and annual accountings to beneficiaries cannot be overstated. Transparency not only fulfills legal obligations but also plays a crucial role in building and maintaining trust between trustees and beneficiaries. By avoiding secrecy and fostering open communication, trustees can significantly reduce the likelihood of disputes and litigation, ensuring the smooth and effective administration of the trust.