Compliments of John D. Laughton, A Professional Law Corporation,
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
It is an honor to be named the successor Trustee of a loved ones Trust. As the
name implies, youve been given a position of trust and responsibility, and it
means that your loved one thinks highly of your skill and ability, not to mention
So, what does a successor Trustee do?
Normally, the person who creates a Trust serves as the initial Trustee. Your
job as the successor Trustee doesnt begin until that person dies (or, in some
cases, becomes disabled). At this point, you step into the Trustees shoes.
As the successor Trustee, you are in charge of administering the Trust. This
means that you are obligated to follow the written terms of the Trust along with
any applicable provisions of state or federal law in gathering, managing, and
distributing the Trust assets.
The terms of each Trust are different, depending on the purposes for which it
was established, the property owned by the Trust, and the situations of the
various Trust beneficiaries. This means there is no one-size-fits-all set of
instructions for administering a Trust. Instead, you will need to closely follow
the written terms of the Trust, employ your good judgment, and likely seek the
advice of one or more experts.
Some of the questions youll encounter as you administer the Trust include:
- What distributions need to be made? Do these distributions need to be
made to one or more beneficiaries, to one or more sub-Trusts, or to a combination
- What about taxes? Are estate taxes due? What about income taxes do
they need to be paid on behalf of the Trust grantor or the Trust itself?
- Should you buy or sell assets on behalf of the Trust? How should you
invest Trust assets?
Serving as the successor Trustee means you have a fiduciary duty to the
beneficiaries. You must manage the Trust assets in the best interests of the
beneficiaries, rather than managing the assets as if they are your own. Managing
this way can complicate certain decisions that would normally be simple.
For instance, deciding how to invest Trust assets might seem simple.
youll need to consider the written terms of the Trust, the requirements of state
law, and a number of external factors in reaching the best choice. One of your
duties is to invest Trust assets in a prudent manner. But what exactly does this
As the successor Trustee, it might seem that the safest decision is to
continue the investment choices of the initial Trustee. However, this course of
action doesnt factor in changes in the market. A down market can mean losses for
the Trust — losses for which you as the successor Trustee could be held
Each Trust comes with a unique set of circumstances that can make the job of
a successor Trustee tricky. In most cases, it is wise to seek professional
guidance as you complete the Trust administration process. An experienced estate
planning attorney can review the terms of the Trust, brief you on the
requirements of state and federal law, and alert you to pitfalls of which you
might be unaware. With expert help, you can minimize costly mistakes and fulfill
your role as the successor Trustee with confidence.
Much of your job as the successor Trustee may be time sensitive. Youll need
to be aware of deadlines for taxes and other filings. The clock is ticking, but
expert help is just a phone call away.
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