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The Importance of a Successor Trustee

Estate planning involves a lot more than a will and beneficiaries. Many people choose to protect their assets through a revocable living trust to help ensure that their affairs are managed correctly. Choosing a trustee to oversee the trust is a tough decision, but it is also important to select a backup trustee to ensure that your assets are managed according to your wishes.

What Is a Revocable Living Trust?

Essentially, a trust is an arrangement where a trustee holds on to property or assets on behalf of another person. Trusts can go into effect while you’re alive – a living trust – or after death or as a part of the will. They can also be revocable, which means that you can modify or cancel the terms of the trust at any time if necessary.

The following are some common reasons why people modify a revocable trust:

  • You may change your mind about the trustee or what their duties include
  • You wish to act as a co-trustee
  • You need to change the assets included in the trust

If you need to change a revocable living trust for any reason, you should do so under the guidance of an experienced legal professional.

What Can Trustees do?

In general, trustees manage property or assets on behalf of the beneficiary. Successor trustees can step in if you are unable to continue managing your own affairs. They usually take over in situations where the grantor of the trust is a co-trustee.

Successor trustees can also step in if the original trustee passes away or is otherwise unable to handle their responsibilities. For example, if your spouse is the primary trustee, but they become ill and cannot help manage your affairs, you may need a successor to fill in the gap.

The person you choose to fill this role has a fiduciary responsibility to handle your assets ethically and a legal obligation to adhere to your will. They cannot manage your finances in a way that could result in a conflict of interest or use your money for their own gain.

A successor trustee’s primary role is to manage your affairs on your behalf and maintain the financial health of the assets until the beneficiary comes of age.

Things to Consider When Establishing a Successor Trustee

To ensure that you are following legal protocol for your trust, there are a few necessary steps you should take.

Step #1: Review the Terms

Before you make a selection, go over the terms of the trust to verify that your choice for a successor can handle the responsibilities. It’s also wise to have a backup trustee in case something happens.

If you come across any details you would like to change, consult with an attorney about modifying your revocable living trust. Remember: only revocable trusts can be modified!

Step #2: Power of Attorney

Sometimes, the financial power of attorney and the successor trustee is the same person, but if they are not, make sure that they can work together. These individuals will be making important decisions on your behalf, so be sure that you’ve made the right choice.

Step #3: Medical Documents

Your medical power of attorney will be responsible for handling medical decisions, but often, medical matters can affect your finances which falls in trustee territory. Keep a list of possible costs or medical treatments that might affect the trustee’s responsibilities.

Step #4: Review with Your Successor Trustee

Once you have reviewed your will and estate plan on your own, go over it with your successor trustee. This allows you to explain your wishes in person instead of leaving the will to the trustee’s interpretation after death.

Plus, talking things over with your successor trustee will help both of you get peace of mind. You can answer their questions and make sure that both of you are comfortable with the estate plan. If you disagree on one detail or another, both of you may speak to an attorney who can mediate and guide you to a mutual decision.

You Aren’t Alone

Making plans for the future is a burden; your decisions could affect your loved ones for years to come. However, you don’t have to face the estate planning process on your own. Our attorneys at Mazza Law can guide you through the process and help you make the right choices for you and your family.

Contact our firm today.

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