“So you’ve been named as Successor Trustee of a loved one’s Trust. Now what?”
First, know that your loved one trusts you to carry out their wishes when they’re gone. Naming you as their Successor indicates their faith in your ability to act in their place if they are unable to do so in the future. Our firm created this page to provide Successor Trustees with useful information that will equip you to succeed in this role.
Acting as a Successor Trustee can be a difficult job, but you’re not alone. Our office has helped thousands of Successor Trustees to learn and execute their duties. To start, here are 3 tips for preparing to be a Successor Trustee while your loved one is still alive. (If they have already passed, check out our Trust Administration page.)
3 TIPS FOR PREPARING TO BE A SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE
1. Understand your loved one’s intents. If possible, have a frank conversation with your loved one about their wishes early on, while they’re still alive and healthy. Here are some talking points to consider:
- Ask them to explain to you exactly what they want to have happen at the end of their life and after they pass.
- Make sure you understand their wishes for end-of-life decisions, such as life support, pain medication, and organ donation, especially if you are also listed as their Advance Health Care Directive agent.
- Ask if they have created a Letter of Instruction. They can draft this informal, free-form letter on their own at any time. Often it will include gifts of personal property (like family heirlooms), instructions on the funeral/burial, and many more details. If they haven’t drafted one yet, encourage them to do so and send a copy to both you and their Estate Planning attorney.
- Make sure you know where their Estate Planning documents are located so they can be accessed when the time comes.
2. Get familiar with their Estate Planning documents. If you know that you have been named as a Successor Trustee, then your loved one has probably created a Revocable Living Trust as part of their Estate Plan. If they are comfortable explaining the structure of their Estate Plan, it can be helpful to review generally what documents have been created. For example, do they have any other Trusts, like a Special Needs Trust or Life Insurance Trust? Do they have a Pour-Over Will and where is the original being kept? (The original Will needs to be lodged with the Probate Court after their death.) Have they created an Advance Health Care Directive or a Financial Power of Attorney? Have copies of these documents been given to the agents? If not, where can copies of these documents be located?
Your loved one may or may not wish to share all of their Estate Planning documents with you while they’re alive. Sometimes giving a copy of a Trust to a Successor Trustee can be problematic and confusing if they later amend it. But at the very least, if you know that you are the named Successor Trustee, it is helpful to understand the location of key documents and how to access them if needed.
3. Download our Successor Trustee Guide & Checklist. Often when a loved one dies, the amount of work entailed for those left behind can be overwhelming, even before you begin to administer the estate. It can be hard to know where to start. That’s why we created a Successor Trustee Guide & Checklist. This free resource explains some of your main duties and responsibilities as a Successor Trustee under the California Probate Code. It also includes a checklist of tasks that should be completed after your loved one passes away. We recommend you seek the counsel of an experienced Estate Planning attorney who can guide you through the specific steps of administering the Trust. Download this free guide below.
We hope you will find these resources helpful as you learn how to perform the important tasks this role requires. For more information on the Trust Administration process, check out our Trust Administration page.