The day-to-day management of a pension falls to its trustee or board of trustees. The role is an important one and should be appointed to individuals with sufficient skill, knowledge and financial expertise to carry out their duties while acting in the best interests of beneficiaries.
Pension schemes - or any trust - involve strict regulation, with frequent legal and administrative obligations which must be observed to avoid financial penalties. In some cases, those penalties can be applied directly to the scheme trustee so it's essential that individuals appointed to that position understand the commitment required by the role.
Who should be appointed as trustee?
Anyone who is able to own property can be appointed to the role of trustee. In selecting trustees, a settlor may choose non-professional, lay-trustees, or opt for the services of a professional trustee. Professional trustees charge for their services but bring a background of expertise and knowledge which a lay-person may lack. Their presence is also a way of ensuring impartiality - which can be valuable in circumstances where difficult decisions must be made regarding the trust and the financial future of its beneficiaries.
A trustee may also be an individual acting in a non-professional capacity. Close friends and family are often appointed as trustees - trusts set up for the financial future of children or family may be best served by trustees with a strong connection to and understanding of the personal context of the agreement. A scheme trustee needs to be able to advise and inform beneficiaries of every aspect of the trust agreement and, although lay-trustees may have a financial background or experience dealing with administrative processes, the demands of trust management can be daunting to the untrained. There may also be times when the lay-trustee finds it difficult to carry out their duties in the impartial and unbiased manner required by the role.
Becoming a trustee: acquiring the skills and the expertise
For lay-trustees who lack the experience and background to deal with the demands of the trustee position, resources are available to help train and prepare for the role. Financial organisations offer valuable information and guides for new trustees in person and online - including training courses and directories of support networks for trustees seeking to enhance their understanding of their role (http://www.pitmanstrustees.com/trustee-zone/). The diversity and regulation of trusts is changing, especially in the make-up of pensions trusts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_XOKxnNJ8Y). There are plenty of resources available to keep appraised of these developments, including podcasts, editorials and features - it's crucial that trustees remain on top of any changes in regulation and legislation affecting the financial landscape.
Know the territory, anticipate the problems...
Broadly speaking, trustees must act honestly, impartially and in the best interests of beneficiaries. More than that, trustees should have a complete understanding of the mechanics of the trust agreement, such as when and in what manner assets are to be distributed to beneficiaries. When trusts encounter difficulties - like pension wind-ups or inheritance disputes - the resulting uncertainty can cause a huge amount of anxiety and even resentment amongst beneficiaries. It is the trustee's responsibility to steer the trust through those adverse conditions and reassure members until problems are resolved.
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