“The person you choose to inventory and distribute the assets of your estate should not learn that fact while deep in grief.”
Here’s an all-too-common scenario: a husband and father of adult children had created a living trust to protect assets and eventually direct the family’s wealth to heirs. During his lifetime, the man had served as the trustee. His wife became the trustee when he died, as explained in the article “Before Naming Trustees, Get Their Consent” from Next Avenue.
When the mother died, the trustee role was given to one of the adult children. The child was stunned because no one had ever told him about this responsibility.
Living trusts typically require trustees to work with estate planning attorneys and financial professionals to manage assets, distribute investment income to beneficiaries, oversee taxes, and sometimes, maintain or sell real property. This is not just for wealthy families. Families of modest means benefit from tax and estate planning aspects of trusts. They allow grantors (the person establishing the trust) to leave assets privately and, in some states, avoid probate, which is usually a public proceeding and can take time to complete.
Some heirs may not be happy with the person named to be the successor trustee. Some living trusts include special instructions for certain beneficiaries intended to control spending, if the grantor thinks the heir may be unable to manage their inheritance.
This can be avoided by having candid discussions with all family members about the parents’ future plans. Sometimes, having a family meeting at the estate planning attorney’s office—neutral territory and an expectation of mature behavior—may make the conversation less tumultuous.
The person named to be a successor trustee needs to be considered carefully. Just inserting someone’s name in the trust document without speaking to them first about the possibility of taking on the role and what it entails is a recipe for disaster.
Before the estate planning attorney completes trust documents, grantors need to think about who would do the best job, what relevant skills they have and who would be able to manage the family’s relationships if unpopular decisions need to be made.
If there are two adult children, the better choice isn’t necessarily the older of the two. The one with the greater financial acumen is the better candidate.
Suppose no suitable candidates from the family can be identified or no one is willing to take on the tasks. In that case, grantors may consider their estate planning attorney or a professional trustee from a financial firm. Although some grantors would prefer to have a family member as their successor trustee, this may not always be possible.
Once the candidate has been named and before the documents are completed, a meeting is needed to outline the trustee's responsibilities. Once the candidate fully understands what they must do and agrees to the role, the grantors might want to hold a family meeting to explain their choice and have an open, hopefully peaceful, discussion.
Reference: Next Avenue (December 22, 2023) “Before Naming Trustees, Get Their Consent”