When creating a living trust, it is common practice that the person doing the estate planning will name themselves as trustee and will appoint a successor trustee to handle matters once they pass on or become incapacitated. If you have been named successor trustee for a person that has died, it is important that you hire an estate planning attorney to assist you in carrying out your duties. Although the attorney that originally created the estate plan would most likely be more familiar with the situation, you are not legally required to hire that same attorney. You can hire any attorney that you please in order to determine what your obligations are.
If the decedent also had a will it is common that the same individual be named successor trustee and personal representative or executor. Although the role of executor is similar to that of trustee, there are technical differences. If there was a will, you should consult with an attorney to determine if a court probate process will be required to administer the estate. If all assets were titled in the trust prior to the person’s death, or passed by beneficiary designation, such as in the case of life insurance and retirement plan assets (such as 401ks, IRAs, etc.), then a court probate may not be needed. However, if there were accounts or real estate in the person’s name alone that were not covered by the trust, a court probate may be necessary.
During the probate process, all of the deceased person’s assets must be collected and accounted for. This includes all bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, investment accounts, retirement assets, life insurance, cars, personal belongings and real estate. All of these assets should be valued and listed on one or more inventories. Depending upon the value of the assets, an estate tax return may be needed. You should be aware of any final expenses, the person’s final income tax returns, and any creditors. Although this process is lengthy, once all of the appropriate steps are taken, the assets will be distributed and the estate will come to a close.
If you have been named a successor trustee, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you through this process and make sure you carry out your legal duties as required. You may also be interested in a copy of our exclusive The Total Estate Planning Successor Trustee’s Manual. Contact us today to learn more!