When you establish a trust, you name someone to be the trustee. A trustee basically does what you do right now with your financial affairs—collect income, pay bills and taxes, save and invest for the future, buy and sell assets, provide for your loved ones, keep accurate records and generally keep things organized and in good order.
The Key Takeaways
· You can be trustee of your revocable living trust. If you are married, your spouse can be co-trustee.
· Most irrevocable trusts do not allow you to be trustee.
· Even though you may be allowed to be your own trustee, you may not be the best choice.
· You can also choose an adult child, trusted friend or a professional or corporate trustee.
· Naming someone else to be co-trustee with you helps them become familiar with your trust, allows them to learn firsthand how you want the trust to operate, and lets you evaluate the co-trustee’s abilities.
Who Can Be Your Trustee
If you have a revocable living trust, you can be your own trustee. If you are married, your spouse can be trustee with you. This way, if either of you become incapacitated or die, the other can continue to handle your financial affairs without interruption. Most married couples who own assets together, especially those who have been married for some time, are usually co-trustees.
You don’t have to be your own trustee. Some people choose an adult son or daughter, a trusted friend or another relative. Some like having the experience and investment skills of a professional or corporate trustee (e.g., a bank trust department or trust company). Naming someone else as trustee or co-trustee with you does not mean you lose control. The trustee you name must follow the instructions in your trust and report to you. You can even replace your trustee should you change your mind.
Naming trustees for any trusts created for your children or other family members is a significantly different matter. Many people leave their assets in trust for their children and then name their children as trustees of of those trusts. Always remember that the more access and control you give your children over the assets you leave in trust for them, the less likely those assets will be protected from their creditors, predators, divorces, catastrophic illness, business failure, etc. Additionally, your children may, if left un-checked, ignore the terms of the trust altogether. A co-trustee or an independent trustee may be a good choice if it is particularly important to you that the terms of the trust be followed after you are gone.
When to Consider a Professional or Corporate Trustee
You may be elderly, widowed, and/or in declining health and have no children or other trusted relatives living nearby. Or your candidates may not have the time or ability to manage your trust. You may simply not have the time, desire or experience to manage your investments by yourself. Also, certain irrevocable trusts will not allow you to be trustee. In these situations, a professional or corporate trustee may be exactly what you need: they have the experience, time and resources to manage your trust and help you meet your investment goals.
What You Need to Know
Professional or corporate trustees will charge a fee to manage your trust, but generally the fee it is quite reasonable, especially when you consider their experience, services provided and investment returns. You will need to weight the cost of a professional trustee against the peace of mind of knowing that they will be more likely to carry your trust’s instructions.
Actions to Consider
* Honestly evaluate if you are the best choice to be your own trustee. Someone else may truly do a better job than you, especially in managing your assets.
* Name someone to be co-trustee with you now. This would eliminate the time a successor would need to become knowledgeable about your trust, your assets, and the needs and personalities of your beneficiaries. It would also let you evaluate if the co-trustee is the right choice to manage the trust in your absence.
* Evaluate your trustee candidates carefully and realistically.
* If you are considering a professional or corporate trustee, talk to several. Compare their services, investment returns and fees.
* Before naming a trustee, be sure you have a clear objective in mind for what you want to accomplish by using a trust. Having that objective clearly in mind will help you to name appropriate trustees.