Things You Need to Know as Successor Trustee

Contributed by Maggie Geren

Being named as a successor trustee in someone’s revocable living trust document can be considered a great honor. But with that honor comes responsibility. Whether you were appointed to this role due to someone’s death or incapacity, we are here to assist you with understanding your role in the trust administration process and to offer you support each step of the way.

What is a revocable living trust?

A revocable living trust (RLT) is a formal relationship in which the trustmaker names a trusted individual (a trustee) to hold and manage accounts and property for the trustmaker’s benefit and the benefit of others (beneficiaries). When people talk about a trust, they are usually referring to the legal document that puts this relationship in writing. This document is effective during the trustmaker’s lifetime, during any period of disability, and after death.

What is a trustee? How is this different from a successor trustee?

A trustee is the person or entity responsible for managing, investing, and distributing the money and property owned by the trust. When a revocable living trust is created, the trustmaker is usually named as the initial trustee. This allows the trustmaker to maintain the same amount of control over and enjoyment of the trustmaker’s accounts and property as the trustmaker had before the trust was created, just in a different role.

A successor trustee is a person or entity that has been named by the trustmaker to take over as trustee when the trustmaker can no longer act as trustee, whether due to disability, death, or a voluntary desire to have someone else manage the trust’s accounts and property.

What are my responsibilities and duties as the successor trustee?

As previously mentioned, a trustee is responsible for managing, investing, and distributing the trust’s accounts and property to the appropriate parties at the appropriate times. There are several responsibilities you may need to carry out when acting as successor trustee:

● Locate the relevant estate planning documents. These documents will be important to prove your authority to act and to understand what the trustmaker has instructed you to do.

● Collect important documents such as insurance policies, real estate deeds, car titles, bank and investment account statements, and tax returns.

● Meet with your loved one’s professional advisor team (estate planning attorney, tax professional, financial advisor, etc.) to plan the strategy for administering the trust and to prepare the legal documents needed to carry out that plan.

● Create a list of debts, creditors, and current expenses. Now that you are managing the trust account, you must ensure that all bills get paid.

● Make a list of the trust beneficiaries and heirs-at-law and their addresses. Work with an attorney to determine what type of notice each person is entitled to, as well as how and when this notice will be given.

● Prepare a list of all of your loved one’s property, accounts, jewelry, and other valuables. The items owned by the trust are now your responsibility. You must know where they are, how much they are worth, and adequately protect them from loss or damage.

● Maintain the trust accounting. That is, keep a record of all deposits, expenses, and transfers from the trust, even if they are to or for the benefit of your loved one.

What if I need help?

Accepting the role of successor trustee can seem a little intimidating when you look at the job description. However, you are not alone. If you have questions about your current or future responsibilities as the trustee or successor trustee of your loved one’s trust, give us a call. We can help you navigate the necessary tasks and lend a hand when you are overwhelmed. We are available for in-person or virtual appointments, whichever is more convenient for you.

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