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The many responsibilities of a successor trustee

After the death or incapacity of a loved one, you may be feeling quickly overwhelmed by the responsibilities you agreed to take on. If one of those duties includes administrating a revocable trust, you have good reason to feel some stress. The job of a trustee is many-faceted, and mistakes during trust administration can result in personal liability. 

As successor trustee, you have agreed to take over the management and maintenance of the trust when the trustee is no longer able to. Unlike administrating an estate, this does not necessarily mean the trust maker has passed away. Nevertheless, the trust is now your responsibility, and you would be wise to learn as much as you can about what the beneficiaries and the trust maker expect from you. 

What is my job? 

The trust maker likely left some specific instructions for the management of the assets within the trust. These instructions are part of the trust agreement. The trust agreement should provide you with guidelines for handling the trust. This may include instructions for immediately distributing the trust’s assets to the beneficiaries or details about how to manage the trust into the future, such as if the beneficiaries are minors who are not yet ready to receive their inheritance. The details of your responsibilities may include: 

  • Collecting smaller assets and keeping them safe 
  • Providing care and protection for larger assets, such as real estate 
  • Locating documentation for intangible assets like insurance policies, retirement accounts and similar assets funded to the trust 
  • Seeking appraisals and date of death values for certain assets 
  • Continuing to pay any fees related to the maintenance of the trust 
  • Working with the estate administrator to deal with any probate issues, such as debts and taxes 

If the trust maker established the trust to continue after his or her death, it will be your job to manage those assets to meet the best interests of the trust’s beneficiaries. This may mean investing them wisely, but it certainly means protecting them so that they do not lose value before time comes for their distribution.  

The trust maker may also have created a pour-over will to cover any assets he or she was unable to fund to the trust before death. While these items will likely have to pass through probate in California, assets already in the trust usually do not. However, it is always a good idea to seek wise counsel for any aspect of trust administration about which you are uncertain.  


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