Acting As Trustee For a Living Trust: What You Need to Know

When a living trust is created, the settlors (the person(s) who created the trust) must designate someone to act as the trustee for that trust. Most of the time, for a revocable living trust, the settlors will also serve as the initial trustee or co-trustees during their lifetimes. In doing so, they are able to maintain complete control and management over their assets. Married couples will often choose to both serve as co-trustees, so each maintains control over the property.

Most importantly, in the trust, the settlors must also designate successor trustees to act when the settlors can no longer act, either because of incapacity or death. If there are co-trustees, the successor trustee will act when the surviving spouse passes away. When the first spouse dies, the other surviving spouse will continue to act as the trustee by himself/herself. It is only when the second spouse passes away that the successor trustee(s) begins to act as the trustee for the trust. This is where your choice of successor trustee is extremely important.

Choosing A Successor Trustee

After the settlors pass away, the successor trustee will step into their shoes and then have full control over the trust assets. The new trustee must carry out the settlors' instructions in regards to the trust and the distribution of assets. Therefore, it is extremely important that the trustee is responsible, diligent, thorough, and capable of assuming the role of trustee. So, what does being a successor trustee entail? The job and responsibilities can be very time-consuming, and the trustee must ensure that the trust assets get distributed to the correct beneficiaries. The trustee will have control over your finances, takes inventory of your assets, pays bills and creditors, and prepare any final tax returns.

The trustee will do all of this without direct court supervision, making it easier and more efficient to handle your final affairs. However, the onus will also be on the trustee to initiate this process and make sure the process goes smoothly. So, make sure your trustee is responsible and detail oriented. Many times, settlors will choose their adult children, siblings, or trusted friends to serve as successor trustees. The successor trustee does not have to be an expert on finances and legal proceedings--that is what your attorney and CPA are there for.

Picking a successor trustee will have long-lasting consequences. Before designating one, you should have an in-depth discussion with potential trustees, so that they know what they are getting into. At Atlantis Law, our estate planning attorneys will work with you to ensure that you make a fully informed decision, one that will best benefit your loved ones. The whole reason you created an estate plan was to make sure your assets were distributed how you want, and picking the right successor trustee is the only sure way to do so.

Please contact us today to schedule your free estate planning consultation. We will guide you through the process of creating an estate plan the right way, so that all of your wishes are carried out exactly how you want.

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