Historical Timeline

History of Trusts & History of Trustees

When we began developing TrusteeMarkeplace.ORG, we researched the history of trusts, and came to the realization, that most of the commercial and personal law in the US was developed by British common and trust law.  This page represents an historical overview of origins and development of trusts and trustees.

Based on this research, we have compiled a timeline of key trust and trustee development. We hope that this will help all our readers form a better understanding of trusts and trustees.

Ancient Roman Law 200BC – Roman Law used the term fideicommissum to describe the term of committing a person’s estate to a trust through an enforceable document we now call a “Will.” These laws described the responsibilities of a fiduciary as well as address the exclusion of family members in a will.  The spirit of these laws, including may provisions upon death, are still used today.

The Crusades: 1100AD to 1300AD – European Lords were asked by their kings and Pope to fight in the Middle East. They left their families and properties to family members or trusted friends, with their understanding they were to take care of their property until they returned. Please note the crusades continued for over 200 years.  When the first group of Lords returned to their homes and properties, many faced resistance from these family members and trusted friends to transferring back their ownership. In other words, the lord returned to find their castles under the control of their family and friends, and these appointed trustees would not give back their control of the property. Because the Lords did not die, the laws of “wills” did not apply; which meant there were no laws to address their ownership claims.  They asked their king to address their claims, and the king referred to Lord Chancellor to process these claims.  Lord Chancellor would continually side with the Lords, not the family or friends, and defined the role of “Trustee.” The court of Lord Chancellor evolved to the word Chancery Court, and it established the difference between the “Legal” and “True” owner.  Legal owners were described as fiduciaries or trustees.  True owners, also known as “equitable” owners, were the beneficiaries.  Trustees were appointed by the trust owner, and once the trust owner returned, the appointment ended if the trust owner desired it. In addition, the trustee’s role included making sure the property or assets were properly maintained until the owner returned.  There were many rules set forth by the Chancery Court to ensure trustees took great care of the assets they were managing.

Today: Trusts are more than intra-family wealth transfers using a variety of trust names, they are also pension plans, business/mutual fund trusts, and bankruptcy trusts. Local Libraries, educational institutions such as universities are also structured as a trust.  Bankruptcy Courts appoint trustees for companies and people navigating through their court system.  TrusteeMarketplace.ORG was created to help family and company fiduciaries and trustees with their trustee responsibilities and roles as the guardian of the beneficiaries’ assets.