Have You Chosen the Right Trustee?
Whether you are reviewing your existing trust or creating a new trust, you should understand the important role that a trustee plays not only in handling trust matters but also in providing for and protecting your loved ones.
What is a trustee?
A trustee is a trusted decision maker who is tasked with handling all matters that relate to your trust. Depending on the type of trust, you could be the trustee in the beginning and need someone else to act as trustee only when you are unable to manage the trust, or you could select a trustee to act immediately.
What does a trustee do?
Being a trustee involves many different important tasks, including the following:
- Managing accounts and property. Although the trust owns your accounts and property, a person needs to carry out most transactions. If the trust owns an investment account, the trustee must watch the investments and request any adjustments that may be needed to ensure the best outcome for the trust and its beneficiaries.
- Keeping the trust beneficiaries informed. Although the trustee decides how trust accounts and property are used, they do so on behalf and in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. A trustee is required to periodically inform the trust beneficiaries about the status of the trust—what the trust owns, how much the trust is worth, what income the trust has received, and what expenses the trust has paid.
- Acting as a point person for trust matters. If beneficiaries have questions about the trust, the trustee is usually best suited to answer them. The trustee is also in charge of filing tax returns and participates in any lawsuits involving the trust.
What should you look for when selecting a trustee?
While it may be advantageous for a trustee to be financially savvy or have a background in tax, law, or finance, they are not required qualifications. When considering potential trustees, we recommend looking for someone with following qualities:
- Ability to ask for help when needed. The trustee does not have to be an expert in every area of trust administration. They can get assistance from financial advisors, tax preparers, and attorneys at the trust’s expense to fully carry out their responsibilities.
- Be detail oriented. Trust administration is a process with specific legal steps that must be taken. The trustee will be asked to compile a list of everything that the trust owns and keep accurate records of income and expenses. Being too general with this information can cause tension between the trustee and beneficiaries and could lead to legal action.
- Have good communication skills. Although the trustee has authority over the trust, they are supposed to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. It is important that the trustee clearly communicate with the beneficiaries, deliver necessary information, and be available to answer any questions that the beneficiaries may have in a timely manner. A trustee must also be able to get along with the beneficiaries.
Who can you choose to be your trustee?
Although the choice of trustee is a very serious matter, you have several options available to you depending on your circumstances and what matters most to you.
- Family members. It is common for clients to select family members be their trustees. Family members likely have an intimate knowledge of your wishes and values, making trust administration easier if you want to leave decisions to your trustee’s discretion. If your trustee is also a beneficiary, they could choose not to accept any compensation for acting as trustee because they will already be receiving something as a beneficiary of your trust. However, allowing the beneficiary to be the trustee of your trust could jeopardize or limit protection of their inheritance.
- Close friends. Close friends likely understand your values and wishes, making any discretionary decisions easier; however, depending on your family dynamics, your close friends may not want to get involved in any conflicts that arise. Also, if they are not trust beneficiaries, they may want to be compensated for the work they do, which could leave some beneficiaries feeling disgruntled that your trustee is getting money from the trust (even though the trustee is legally entitled to it).
- Professional third party. If protecting your beneficiaries’ inheritances is important to you, a professional may offer additional protection. Because administering trusts is their profession, they will likely understand every step that must be taken and have the tools to efficiently and accurately do so. However, because trust administration is their job, they will require compensation and will inform you of their fee. This amount will likely be higher than what a family member or close friend would seek for compensation.
We understand that you have an important decision ahead of you. We are here to guide you through the decision-making process and answer any questions you may have along the way. You can contact our office at (405) 928-4075 to set up an appointment.