A public trustee is an official who has been appointed to fill an office that has been established pursuant to a statute passed by a national, state, territory, or local government in order to act as a trustee for a trust that has been established to administer a sum that is required to be deposited as a form of security through legislation.
A public trustee may also be appointed if the courts have been forced to remove another trustee from their role administering a trust. A public trustee in this case is appointed to replace a trustee who has engaged in impropriety, although the level of impropriety required to force a court to decide that it must appoint a public trustee varies from case to case.
Other circumstances under which a public trustee may be appointed is to serve estates where either a will does not name a specific executor or the testator had decided that they would rather have a public trustee oversee the distribution of their estate. A testator may elect to name a public trustee if there is concern about bias among their relatives which would affect the administration of their estate.
A public trustee can only be named if there is a will already on file. Otherwise the estate will be overseen by an administrator. Public trustees may be needed if the executor named in the will has either predeceased the testator, has died at the same time, or is otherwise incapacitated.