When a trust is created the maker of the trust must make a number of important decisions. One of the most important decisions is who to appoint as Trustee of the trust. Though it is always wise to discuss the appointment with the intended Trustee before making the appointment final, there is no requirement that a maker do so. As a result, it is possible to be named as the Trustee of a trust agreement and only find out about it after the death of the maker of the trust. If you just found out that you were named as the Trustee of a trust, what should you do?
A trust agreement allows the maker of the trust to place assets under the management and control of a Trustee to be used for the benefit of a third party (the “beneficiary”). Trusts are divided into two broad categories – testamentary trusts and living trusts. A living trust is one that takes effect during the lifetime of the maker while a testamentary trust only takes effect upon the maker’s death. Sometimes, the maker of a trust fails to inform the appointed Trustee of the appointment during his/her lifetime. The Trustee only find out, therefore, upon the death of the maker. Understandably, this can put the Trustee is a less than ideal position. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in this position there are some important steps you need to take, including:
- Decide if you want to accept the appointment. You are not legally required to accept the job just because you were named as the Trustee. A successor Trustee should be named as well in the event you are unable, or unwilling, to serve.
- Consult an estate planning attorney. A number of important fiduciary duties and responsibilities go along with being a Trustee. To ensure that you understand what they are and what is expected of you it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.
- Read the trust agreement. This may sound like an obvious step; however, some people just breeze over the agreement which can result in missing something important.
- Communicate with beneficiaries. Communication with beneficiaries is an ongoing duty of a Trustee. In the beginning you should send out a “letter of introduction” to all beneficiaries letting them know who you are and advising them that you will be administering the trust in which they are named as a beneficiary.
- Inventory assets. Take time to familiarize yourself with the assets currently owned by the trust so that you know what type of assets they are, where they are located, and what they are worth.
In the months and years to come you will likely need to work closely with an estate planning attorney to ensure that you fulfill the job of Trustee as competently and successfully as possible. Contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment and get started today.