• Contacts attorney to review trust and process
• Keeps beneficiaries informed
• Puts together team of advisors
• Inventories assets, determines current values
• Makes partial distributions if needed
• Collects benefits, keeps records, files tax returns
• Pays bills, does final accounting
• Distributes assets to beneficiaries as trust directs
• Oversees care of ill person
• Understands insurance benefits and limitations
• Looks after care of any minors and dependents
• Applies for disability benefits
• Puts together team of advisors
• Notifies bank and others
• Transacts necessary business
• Keeps accurate records and accounting
Consider hiring an attorney, bookkeeper, accountant or corporate trustee to help you. (A corporate trustee can manage the investments and do the recordkeeping.) If you feel you cannot handle any of the responsibilities due to work, family demands or any other reason, you can resign and let the next successor trustee step in. If no other successor trustee has been named, or none is willing or able to serve, a corporate trustee can usually be named.
Yes, trustees are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services. The trust document should give guidelines.
Notify the bank, brokerage firm and others of the grantor’s death and that you are now trustee. They will probably want to see a certified death certificate (order at least 12), a certificate of trust and your personal identification.
To finalize the list of assets, you will need exact values as of the date of the grantor’s death. Some assets will need to be appraised. An estate sale may need to be held to dispose of household goods and personal effects.
Keep careful records of final medical and funeral expenses, and file medical claims promptly. Keep a ledger of bills and income received. Contact an accountant and attorney to prepare final income and estate tax returns, if required. Verify and pay all bills and taxes. Make a final accounting of assets and bills paid, and give it to the beneficiaries.
If the assets are to be fully distributed, you will divide the cash and transfer titles according to the instructions in the trust. That’s it…you’re finished and the trust is dissolved.
If the assets are to stay in a trust (for minors, for a surviving spouse, for tax purposes or if the beneficiaries will receive their inheritances in installments), each trust will need a new tax identification number, and proper bookkeeping and reporting procedures will need to be established.
You will have essentially the same duties as an executor named in a will would have. But if all titles and beneficiary designations have been changed to the grantor’s trust, the probate court will not be involved. That means you will be able to act on your schedule instead of the court’s.
The trustee is responsible for seeing that everything is done properly and in a timely manner. You may be able to do much of this yourself, but an attorney, corporate trustee and/or accountant can give you valuable guidance and assistance. Here’s an overview of what needs to be done.
Inform the family of your position and offer to assist with the funeral. Read the trust document and look for specific instructions. Notify a co-trustee as soon as possible.
Make an appointment with an attorney to go over the trust document, trust assets and your responsibilities as soon as possible. Do not sell or distribute any assets before you meet with the attorney.
Before the meeting, make a preliminary list of the assets and their estimated values. You’ll need exact values later, but this will help the attorney know if an estate tax return will need to be filed (due no later than nine months after the grantor’s death). If there is a surviving spouse or if the trust has a tax planning provision, the attorney may need to do some tax planning right away. The trust may also need its own tax identification number.
Collect all death benefits (social security, life insurance, retirement plans, associations) and put them in an interest bearing account until assets are distributed. If the surviving spouse or other beneficiary needs money to live on, you can probably make some partial distributions. But do not make any distributions until after you have determined there is enough money to pay all expenses, including taxes.
You go back to being a co-trustee or successor trustee and the grantor resumes taking care of his or her own financial affairs. It’s very easy, and there is no court involvement.
If all assets have been transferred to the trust, you will be able to step in as trustee and manage the grantor’s financial affairs quickly and easily, with no court interference.
First, make sure the grantor is receiving quality care in a supportive environment. Give copies of health care documents (medical power of attorney, living will, etc.) to the physician. If someone has been appointed to make health care decisions, make sure he or she has been notified. Offer to help notify the grantor’s employer, friends and relatives.
Next, find and review the trust document. (Hopefully, you already know where it is.) Notify any co-trustees as soon as possible. Also, notify the attorney who prepared the trust document; he or she can be very helpful if you have questions. You may want to meet with the attorney to review the trust and your responsibilities. The attorney can also prepare a certificate of trust, a shortened version of the trust that also proves you have legal authority to act.
You will want to become familiar with the grantor’s insurance (medical and long term care, if any) and understand the benefits and limitations. Assuming the insurance will cover a certain procedure or facility could be a costly mistake.
Have the doctor(s) document the incapacity as required in the trust document. Banks and others may ask to see this and a certificate of trust before they let you transact business.
Usually the trust document contains instructions for determining the grantor’s incapacity. The trust may require one or more doctors to certify the grantor is not physically or mentally able to handle his or her financial affairs.
No, of course not. You can have professionals help you, especially with the accounting and investing. You will also probably need to consult with an attorney from time to time. However, as trustee, you are ultimately responsible to the beneficiaries for prudent management of the trust assets.