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A trust company is a corporation, especially a commercial bank, organized to perform the fiduciary of trusts and agencies. It is normally owned by one of three types of structures: an independent partnership, a bank, or a law firm, each of which specializes in being a trustee of various kinds of trusts and in managing estates. Trust companies are not required to exercise all of the powers that they are granted. Further, the fact that a trust company in one jurisdiction does not perform all of the duties of a trust company in another jurisdiction is irrelevant and does not have any bearing on whether either company is truly a "trust company". Therefore, it is safe to say that the term "trust company" must not be narrowly construed.
The "trust" name refers to the ability of the institution's trust department to act as a trustee – someone who administers financial assets on behalf of another. The assets are typically held in the form of a trust, a legal instrument that spells out who the beneficiaries are and what the money can be spent for.
A trustee will manage investments, keep records, manage assets, prepare court accountings, pay bills (depending on the nature of the trust) medical expenses, charitable gifts, inheritances or other distributions of income and principal.
A trust company can be named as an executor or personal representative in a last will and testament. The responsibilities of an executor in settling the estate of a deceased person include collecting debts, settling claims for debt and taxes, accounting for assets to the courts and distributing wealth to beneficiaries.
Estate planning is usually also offered to allow clients to structure their affairs so as to minimise inheritance taxes and probate costs. In the United States, one of the primary profit centers for a trust company is commissions earned from selling various types of insurance products designed to minimize the estate tax charged to a person.
A trust officer may provide guardian and conservator services, acting as guardian of a minor's property until adulthood or as conservator of the estate of an adult unable to handle his or her own finances.
Environmental and historic preservation trusts
Some trust companies are formed not merely for the benefit of a minor or an individual trustee, but for the preservation of nature or historic sites.
The trust company may also provide escrow services, invest education or retirement funds or hold 1031 Exchange proceeds where cash from the sale of US real estate is held in trust (for tax purposes) until used to buy replacement land. The trust company also provide escrow facilities as an intermediary when it is for good to hold with it (on-behalf)something valuable till specific performance by parties not done as per agreed terms.
Corporate trust services
Trust companies may also perform corporate trust services. Corporate trust services are services which assist, in the fiduciary capacity, in the administration of the corporation's debt. For example, in a normal bank loan, the lender normally lends money to the company (usually with conditions called "covenants"), accepts payments from the company monthly, and monitors the financial conditions of the company to ensure that it is meeting all its agreed upon conditions (for example, that its ratio of profits to expenses stays above a certain amount). However most large companies borrow money not from banks, but by selling bonds. When the company sells bonds, a corporate trust company can handle the acceptance of payments from the company (which it passes on to the bondholders), and is the entity which monitors the company to ensure it is meeting covenants. In the event of the company's bankruptcy, the corporate trust company represents the interests of the bondholders and acts to recover as much of the loan proceeds as possible.
A living trust appoints a trustee to manage assets during the lifetime of the original settlor; this private arrangement allows for distribution of wealth even if the client becomes incapacitated or unable to act personally. Upon death, the trust controls how and when assets are used and distributed; this can be a substitute for appointment of a legal guardian or conservator to handle assets inherited by young children or others unable to act on their own behalf.
By bypassing the probate process through which a will is handled by the judicial system, a trust may reduce costs or delays, manage real estate, provide more privacy than a bequest in a will and offer possible tax advantages.
A testamentary trust is one created by being written into a will to provide for management of assets to be inherited by beneficiaries.
A revocable trust is one in which assets are owned by the trustee, but the settlor reserves a power of revocation. Because the settlor can revoke the trust and therefore maintains control over the property, there are normally no tax advantages involved in this arrangement.
An irrevocable trust is often used for charitable purposes by organizations or high net worth individuals, as well as for the management of inheritances. As the benefactor relinquishes control of the assets upon creating the trust, any charitable activities incur tax benefits even while the assets are invested to provide a financial endowment for later use by the charitable foundation. This approach has been successfully used by foundations established by well-known and wealthy families such as the Ford (automobile), Carnegie (steel) and Arthur Vining Davis (aluminium) families.
A trust may also be an integral part of an institution founded by such an individual or group, created to ensure its long-term financial viability.