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When Not to Accept the Job as Successor Trustee

Your friend or parent has asked you to be the successor trustee of his trust. Is there anything you should ask before accepting such a responsibility? Yes, yes, yes. You may think that being asked to handle someone’s estate is not that hard but sometimes being a trustee can be aggravating, frustrating, time-consuming, and even lead to litigation.
Money Magazine has a good article about the warning signs that, if present, may make you want to think twice about accepting a trusteeship. Here are some of the red flags:

1. You are being left in the dark. Before you agree to be a trustee and administer a trust, you should know the facts. Review the trust and see what is involved. If the trustor is asking you to be his successor trustee but won’t provide a copy of the trust, you may not want to take on such a task without being informed.

2. Someone who is an heir is being disinherited. Disinheriting someone who is a natural beneficiary such as a child can cause hard feelings and increase the likelihood of litigation which you will have to defend as the trustee. Inequitable distributions are likewise more likely to cause problems than if the beneficiaries are all treated equally, such as where three children of the Trustor split the estate equally.

3. There is already tension in the family. Managing a trust where the family members don’t get along anyway can be difficult. One of the ways this can happen is where there is an A/B trust or bypass trust which can pit the children of a Trustor against a surviving spouse who is not their mother.

4. You are being asked to manage a relative’s inheritance in trust. Most of the time, the successor trustee will be distributing the assets outright to the beneficiaries. Sometimes however, a trustor provides that the money be held in trust until a particular beneficiary is a certain age. The trustor may make another child the trustee and therefore in charge of investing and managing the assets in trust until the beneficiary is of the age to receive the entire estate. Putting one child in control of another child’s inheritance can be a difficult situation.

If after being informed of what trust administration would involve, you decide to agree to be a trustee, one way to make your job easier is to get the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer who handles trust administration. At Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, trust administration is a large part of our practice.

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