Back to the Learning Center

By: Scott Grossman on January 24th, 2018

Serving as Successor Trustee: Are You Right for the Job?

After losing a loved one, you may find yourself not only grieving the loss but also facing the possibility of having to administer his or her trust. Your loved one may have named you in the trust document for serving as successor trustee. This does not, however, mean that you are required to accept the appointment. Before proceeding, it is important to think it through carefully. Trustees carry a great deal of responsibility on their shoulders.

What are some reasons that might compel you to decline a trustee appointment? The following is an overview:

Four Reasons to Think Carefully Before Taking on the Role of Serving as Successor Trustee:

  1. If you do not have a good relationship with the beneficiaries of the trust. Administering a trust requires regular communication and interaction with the trust’s beneficiaries. If you do not get along with these individuals, administering the trust can be very difficult. Strained relationships can also increase the likelihood that a beneficiary may try to accuse you of wrongdoing, even when you are acting properly.
  2. If you are not clear on what assets were held in the trust or owned by the person who created it. One of the more difficult tasks in trust administration is to locate the assets and bring them under your control. Some assets may have been placed in the trust while your loved one was still alive. Others may come to be owned by the trust by virtue of what is known as a pour-over will. It is possible your loved one had this type of will in place at the time of his or her death. If so, then some or all of his assets need to be placed into the trust during the estate administration. Sometimes finding these assets can be a very difficult process. We recommend that you accept the appointment as a trustee only if you have the time or patience for this.
  3. If you are aware of pending or threatened lawsuits involving the trust or the estate. In many cases, you may choose not to want to involve yourself in a trust administration that involves lawsuits. The trustee has a duty to defend the trust in cases where the lawsuit could threaten the trust’s value. Similarly, if the trust is owed money, the trustee has a duty to collect it. It is the trust’s money that can be used to pay for these legal expenses. However, it could take up a lot of your time if you are involved with a trust administration like this. It is important to be aware of this before accepting your appointment.
  4. If you are named as a co-trustee with someone else and you have concerns over working with this other individual or entity. Many trusts will name successor co-trustees to serve after the creator of the trust passes away. Do you have concerns over the relationship that you have with the other trustee? If so, it may not be a good idea to administer the trust. Similarly, it is important to understand upfront how the work associated with the trust administration will be apportioned between the two of you before agreeing to proceed.

If you are ready to start your case, then please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form.  If you want a comprehensive overview of California Probate, then click here. Should you have additional questions about trust litigation, then you will find plenty of useful information in our Learning Center.