Many people set up trusts to help provide for loved ones and favorite causes after they pass away. A trust can help manage the wealth you wish to transfer and ensures the efficient distribution of assets—such as property or a sum of money—over a set period of time. Yet a trust may only be as strong as the trustee overseeing it.
A trustee is the individual or company that administers a trust for the benefit of named beneficiaries. Duties can range widely and may include paying bills and taxes, and managing property and investments.
Forbes recently had a nice article about this titled “How to Choose the Right Trustee for Your Estate.” Most importantly, the article says a trustee “has a legal fiduciary duty to manage a trust on a beneficiary’s behalf,” by always acting in the beneficiary’s best interests, as outlined by the trust.
For far-reaching trusts, the trustee’s job is neither easy nor quick. Overseeing a trust could mean years of active engagement with the estate’s beneficiaries. For this reason, the article emphasizes that it’s essential to think about the most appropriate trustee before making the appointment.
A trustee doesn’t need a lot of legal or financial knowledge, but needs to be someone you trust implicitly. In addition, close proximity to the beneficiaries is important so that duties can be performed quickly and without undue travel expense. Above all, it should be someone who has the energy and mental acuity to take on all responsibilities.
Managing a trust is a big responsibility and requires a candid conversation with the potential trustee. A trustee needs to know up front what is being asked of him or her. The article also emphasizes the importance of periodically re-evaluating your trustee choice as circumstances can change. Have you and this friend grown apart or now is your parent too old to help? If so, it’s time to consider a new trustee.
Another option is a trust company. A trust company will be unemotional and completely detached from the situation. “There are definitely fewer family feuds when trust companies are involved,” the article says. Trust companies can also bring expertise and experience that a non-professional trustee can rarely match. The potential downside to hiring a company is that trust companies charge a fee. This can vary, but is usually a percentage of the estate. A friend or family trustee will usually not charge for their services. Trust companies are often less flexible or liberal in their distributions, which can be either a good or a bad thing, depending on your family’s particular situation.
Finally, the article emphasizes the importance of having language in your trust or even your will that allows you to assign new trustees if circumstances change. To do this you will need flexibility in your trust language.
An experienced estate planning attorney can help you through this process.
Reference: Forbes (May 19, 2015) “How To Choose The Right Trustee For Your Estate”