Estate Planning Law

What Is a Successor Trustee in Estate Planning?

Creating a trust can help to add protection to your estate plan when it comes time to distribute your assets. While there are many different types of trusts, nearly all require that you add a successor trustee.

This is the person whom you entrust to manage your trust after you pass away. Both the choosing and appointing of a successor trustee can be challenging. It’s equally difficult to pick the right person for the job and to be chosen as a successor trustee.

Whether you’ve been chosen as one or you need to appoint a successor trustee to your estate plan, it’s important to understand the role in its entirety. 

What does a successor trustee do? What are their responsibilities? Who should you choose for this critical role? We’ll answer these questions and more, so let’s begin with what a successor trustee does.

Trust Management

If you are the creator of a trust, your official title is that of the grantor. When a grantor passes away, there needs to be someone in charge who can manage the trust, since, for obvious reasons, you will no longer be able to.

That’s where the successor trustee comes into play. Once you’re gone, the successor trustee takes control of your trust for the purpose of seeing to it that your wishes are carried out. This type of role is most prominent in revocable trusts, where the successor trustee takes over following the death of the grantor.

Not all successor trustees have the same responsibilities, as they differ based on the grantor’s instructions and the type of trust. What’s more, a successor trustee may be asked to oversee a trust for many years.

A good example of this type of situation is if the grantor has small children who will eventually inherit assets. But because they have to wait until they’re older, the successor trustee has to make sure that nothing happens to the assets until that time comes. 

A successor trustee can also take over trust in the event that the grantor becomes incapacitated or is no longer capable of making sound decisions. Such stipulations are written into the trust during estate planning so that both the grantor and successor trustee are aware of them.

Choosing a Successor

Choosing a successor trustee is not always black and white. Some grantors have had a successor trustee in mind for many years and have already discussed their eventual appointment with them. Scenarios like this make for easier estate planning. Others, however, struggle to select a suitable candidate for the role.

Most grantors appoint a relative or close friend, but a financial institution or trusted colleague can be chosen, as well. 

The subject of choosing a successor trustee becomes even more challenging when there is more than one family member or friend vying for the position. But the role of successor trustee should not be taken lightly. It can be a very stressful responsibility and should therefore go to someone who is capable of making important — and sometimes tough — decisions.

What’s more, the instructions and wishes of the grantor can make the successor trustee’s job time-consuming and tedious. Once again, the right person needs to take on the role of a successor trustee.

Responsibilities of the Trustee

The typical duties of a successor trustee include managing the trust in adherence to the grantor’s wishes and distributing assets. If you are the grantor, you will be responsible for establishing the trustee’s duties. 

Moreover, the successor trustee must always act in the interest of the grantor and never for their own personal gain (unless otherwise stated in the trust). Additionally, the responsibilities of the trustee differ depending on whether the grantor is incapacitated or deceased.

Appointed as a Successor

If you are chosen to be a successor trustee, you will need to meet with the grantor to establish your role and what is expected of you. It’s worth noting that you are under no obligation to accept your appointment. However, most people are made aware of such by the grantor well in advance. 

An estate planning attorney is essential in establishing a trust and appointing (or being appointed as) a successor trustee. Your lawyer will guide you through the often challenging landscape of trusts, wills, successors, estate plans, and what they entail. 

It’s important to have an experienced voice that can give you crucial direction and ensure that you make the best decisions in creating your trust and appointing a successor. Your estate planning attorney will work closely with you and help you plan with your best interests in mind.

Contact Doane & Doane Today for Assistance 

Doane & Doane was founded in 2003 remains one of the most trusted and respected estate planning firms in Southeast Florida. If you need assistance establishing an estate plan, appointing a successor trustee, or any other related issues, we encourage you to contact us at 561-656-0200. Alternatively, please feel free to fill out our online contact form, and we will promptly respond to your inquiry.

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.