Naming someone as trustee of your living trust is quite possibly one of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever make. The trustee is involved in just about every aspect of the administration of a trust; and although it is considered a great honor, it can also be a great responsibility.
Most people choose someone close to them to serve as trustee: a best friend, son or daughter, brother or sister. Choosing someone who knows you and your family to serve in this role can be beneficial in many ways, but if that person doesn’t have a financial or legal background the responsibilities can be overwhelming! It is important that the person you nominate as trustee knows not only what is expected of trustees in general, but also knows what you expect of them as a trustee. For this reason, you may want to consider giving your nominated trustee these 5 Basic Tips for Trustees—and don’t forget to add your own personal requests as grantor.
1. Make sure you read and understand the entire trust document. If you don’t have a legal background it is okay (preferable, in fact) to ask for help from an attorney.
2. Always remember that the beneficiaries of the trust are your first priority and responsibility. Once you are trustee you have what is called a “fiduciary duty” to always act in the best interests of the beneficiaries.
3. Make sure that the trust has its own separate checking account. If the trust is a living trust you as trustee will likely be the person who creates that separate account after the death of the grantor. Under no circumstances should a trustee mingle personal finances with trust finances.
4. Maintain regular contact with the beneficiaries; not just to provide them with regular accountings of trust activity or investments, but also so you yourself can remain aware of the lifestyle, needs, and feelings of all the beneficiaries.
5. Be sure you have a support team that will benefit the trust and the beneficiaries. Get investment advice from a financial professional; have a trusted attorney help with any legal questions you might have; hire a mediator to help if there are irreconcilable differences amongst the beneficiaries. The goal here is not to spend the trust funds frivolously, but to protect and preserve trust assets as the grantors would have wished for their beneficiaries.