Who Can I Trust with my Trust
Trusts are extremely versatile and efficient estate planning tools which allow for the effective management of assets both during the Settlor’s lifetime and after his death. In establishing a trust the Settlor (creator of the trust) names a Trustee to manage the assets for the Beneficiaries. The Settlor can be as specific or as flexible as he desires in directing how and when the assets are to be used.
Choosing the right Trustees can be the difference between the achievement of all of the Settlor’s goals and a catastrophe of financial mismanagement and family discord. So whom should you choose? Let’s look at the options.
You – Most people choose to name themselves as the initial trustee of a revocable trust. This allows them to have complete control over their assets. You would then name one or more Successor Trustees to take over management of the Trust assets when you become too ill to manage them for yourself or you pass away.
Your Spouse – Married couples will often name each other as Successor Trustees of their individual trusts. They also frequently name both spouses as Co-Trustees of their individual or joint trusts. This way, either spouse may manage assets just as they have always done with their joint accounts. Of course, in the case of separation, divorce or incapacity, the spouse should be removed and replaced.
You and Another Person – Although spouses are the most common co-trustees, you may want to consider naming someone else, as you age or if you have lost your co-trustee spouse. While having a Successor Trustee serves as a safety net in case you become ill or pass away, having a Co-Trustee is more like having a parachute. During periods of intermittent illness or times you are traveling, your Co-Trustee can handle things. If you develop a progressive illness or infirmity, your Co-Trustee can begin by acquainting himself with the assets and viewing transactions and monthly statements. Then as you are able to do less and less your Co-Trustee can step up and do more and more. This allows you the advantage of seeing a sample of the Co-Trustee’s management style and avoids the potential conflict and distress of a declaration of incompetency. It also allows the Co-Trustee time to familiarize himself with the assets and their management while you are still available to advise and explain. This makes it far more likely that your goals and wishes will be achieved, than if the Successor must take over knowing nothing at a time when he may be grieving your illness or death.
Another Person – In the case of an Irrevocable Trust or if the Settlor doesn’t wish to manage the assets, a friend or family member may be chosen as Trustee. In choosing a Trustee, look for a person with integrity who manages his own life and assets well; someone with diplomacy, organizational skills and a large dose of common sense. It’s helpful if your Trustee is geographically available and has plenty of time and energy to commit to the task because, done right, managing a trust is a lot of work.
Think twice before naming two or more people, other than yourself, to serve as Co-Trustees. When you name two, you either tie their hands together by making them work in concert or give them separate, but equal powers in which case the right hand may not know what the left hand is doing.
Also consider your own family dynamics in deciding whom you will name as Trustee and what you are expecting that person to do. For example, your daughter may be the right person to choose to manage assets for you if you become ill, but it may be too much to expect her to manage funds for her seriously disabled nephew for the rest of his life.
Your Agent Under Power of Attorney – In a complete estate plan involving a trust you will name an agent under a Durable Power of Attorney (POA) for Finances to handle assets that cannot go into the trust such as IRA’s, 401K’s and certain annuities. Many people name the same person who they chose as Successor Trustee. The POA Agent, can also manage trust assets in the Settlor’s place so long as there are provisions both in the POA and in the Trust allowing him to do so.
A Professional Trustee – Bankers, Attorneys, and Accountants may make it part of their business to act as a Trustee. Their experience can be beneficial when the terms of the trust are complicated or the investments are complex. Their expertise is helpful in analyzing tax issues, brokerage statements and choosing appropriate investments. Choosing a professional trustee can avoid family jealousies and emotionally charged issues. Although their fees may be more than a friend or family member would charge, it may be worthwhile in certain situations.
In the end it is your plan, your trust and your choice. Who would be the best Trustee to accomplish your goals?