After the death of a loved one, the individual named in the decedent’s trust who will administer the trust and distribute the trust assets is the successor trustee. A successor trustee has a number of fiduciary duties. Some of these duties are the duty of loyalty, duty to avoid conflicts of interest, and duty to preserve trust assets. These are just a few duties; there are many more however, this blog is not so much about the legal responsibilities and duties of a successor trustee but rather practical information to make trust administration go smoothly and avoid any difficulties with the beneficiaries.
One thing that is so important is to keep impeccable records. Make sure you maintain accurate records and document all transactions. Keep all receipts. Detailed records are imiportant because it may become necessary to prepare an accounting of all the deposits and income going into the trust and all the disbursements and distributions.
Keeping beneficiaries informed is also really important. As a successor trustee, you do have a duty to keep beneficiaries informed, but even for items that are not subject to this duty, it is a good ideal to keep in touch with the beneficiaries, answer any questions they have, and maintain a friendly relationship. Many cases of trust litigation arise because beneficiaries become disgruntled about not being kept informed or not feeling like they are “in the loop.”
If necessary, hire experts of advisors to help you. You may find that it is helpful to use the services of an accountant or a financial advisor. You also may want to hire an attorney experienced in trust administration to assist you. This can be helpful when there are many beneficiaries, charitable beneficiaries, or assets that need to be sold or businesses that need to be operated. Know that if you do need to hire advisors, the trust estate will pay for those expenses.
For help with trust administration or trust litigation, give us a call. Some trust administrations are best done by experienced estate planning attorneys to insulate the trustee from potential liability. If you are the successor trustee of a difficult trust administration, the money is well spent to get expert assistance.