How to Choose a Trustee
Choosing a Trustee is not something to take lightly. When you have a living Trust, the bulk of your assets are owned by the Trust and, therefore, under the control of the Trustee. As long as you are capable (have legal capacity) of managing your own affairs, you are the Trustee. If you become incapacitated, the successor Trustee manages the assets in the Trust for your benefit. At your death, the Trustee is charged with managing or distributing the Trust Estate in accordance to the directions you provided in the Trust.
Whom you name as Trustee depends greatly on your current situation and will most likely change over time. For instance, if you have young children, you will want to name someone to manage the estate for them should something happen to you. In this case, it is important to name someone who will manage the money for the children in the same way you would, and who will ensure it is used for the children’s best interests.
The older we are, the more likely it is that someone will need to step in to assist us with our finances. While your children may be fine paying final expenses and closing up the estate, it is not a given that they are the best choice to take care of your finances if you are unable to manage them on your own. Family dynamics should be taken into consideration when deciding if children will be named as successor Trustees or not. If siblings do not get along, naming them as Co-Trustees could be disastrous. Even naming them one after the other could increase tensions between them, leading to higher costs in administering the estate (higher costs means less assets available to them for distribution). Or, the children may be lovely and wonderful and not so good with money. In this case, placing them in charge of your finances would seem less than ideal.
When deciding on a Trustee, it is important to take into account all these factors. Often, it is a family member tasked with this job; however, it does not have to be and should not be unless there is a family member truly able and willing to do the work. If there is no one appropriate within the circle of family or friends, an outside, neutral party may be the best choice. A professional fiduciary can be a perfect solution in this instance. As an estate planning attorney for almost 15 years, I have seen time and time again where this is the better choice over the relative or friend. If you would like to discuss your specific situation with me to determine if a professional may be more appropriate than a family member, I would be happy to meet with you. My initial consultation is always free of charge, and I will help you determine the best course of action. As always, it is my honor and pleasure to serve.