What You Need to Know When Choosing the Right Trustee

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One of the most important decisions you’ll make when designing your estate plan is who to name in the various fiduciary roles – trustee, personal representative, executor and agent.

While a critical decision, it is often given significantly less thought than the design and distribution of your assets.

Even a meticulously designed estate plan drafted by an accomplished estate planning attorney can fail to achieve its purpose if the trustee fails to administer the trust properly.

Not wanting to upset the family hierarchy, many parents name their first-born child as the first fiduciary appointed in their estate planning documents, followed by the second-born child (if applicable).

Depending on the provisions of the trust, this type of arrangement could create a situation where the oldest child has complete discretion over whether to make distributions to his/her siblings.

This type of arrangement can lead to unwanted family conflicts, even for those families whose siblings are extremely close – which is why it’s important to have a good understanding of trustee duties, different types of trustees and trust services offered.

Typical Trustee Duties

In addition to the potential family conflicts inherent in naming a child to serve as trustee, it is also important to consider the duties your trustee may need to perform. The trustee’s responsibilities go beyond what most individuals expect or are prepared for; in many ways, it is like a full-time job. Depending on the complexity, a trustee might be required to perform the following tasks:

  • Accounting and administrative duties, such as paying bills, retitling assets and bookkeeping
  • Asset management, including reviewing investment performance, maintaining records, tracking investments and collecting dividends and other income
  • Maintenance and transfer of real estate, including obtaining titles, deeds and appraisals
  • Management, valuation and disposal of business interests held in the trust
  • Valuation and distribution of personal property
  • Management of unique assets, such as farm or ranch holdings, copyrights, patent rights, and oil and gas interests
  • Estate settlement, including preparing tax returns and paying creditors
  • Distribution of assets according to the trust terms

Corporate Trustee v. Individual Trustee

As you can see, serving as a trustee is a serious and time-consuming obligation.

Not only that, an individual trustee can expose themselves to significant personal liability for failing to administer the Trust properly.

Many people find that appointing a corporate trustee can relieve the burden of asking an individual to take on that additional liability and perform the duties required of a trustee.

Unlike most individuals, a corporate trustee has extensive trust administration experience, is knowledgeable of the applicable state laws and procedures, and can serve as a neutral third-party administrator.

If any of the following situations may be inherent in your estate plan, consider appointing a corporate trustee:

  • Long-term or ongoing trust administration
  • Complex, multi-generational trust administration
  • Family conflicts or potentially difficult family dynamics
  • Economic disparity among beneficiaries
  • Dissimilar provisions for beneficiaries in the same generation
  • Spendthrift protection provisions
  • Trusts for surviving spouses in blended family situations

Learn More About Trust Services

To learn more about our corporate trustee services and how we work with you to help protect your estate planning legacy, please reach out to us today.

Carson Private Trust is a Trust Representative Office of National Advisors Trust Company (NATC) and National Advisors Trust of South Dakota (NATSD, which are separate and unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for each other’s policies and services. Investment advisory services offered through CWM, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.

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