QUESTION: My parents have a trust. My Dad passed away several years ago and my Mom just passed away. They named me as the trustee. I am not sure what I am supposed to do. I’m afraid I’m going to do something wrong and get in trouble. What should I do?
ANSWER: What a great question! The vast majority of estate plans now are done with trusts. Usually the parents appoint a child as trustee, like your parents did. Most of the time, the child has no experience being a trustee. However, in most cases, being a trustee is not that difficult. In a very simple trust administration you would gather the trust assets, pay the bills that are required to be paid, and then distribute the assets as it is stated in the trust document. Of course, that is a trust administration in its simplest form. It can often be much more complicated than that. As you alluded to, you can get in trouble if you do things incorrectly.
As trustee, one of the things you are responsible for is the trust assets. You have a duty to invest the trust assets to maximize the amount the beneficiaries will receive. However, you do not have to be a financial expert; you can hire a financial advisor to help you. You also have a duty to pay creditors that are allowed by law to be paid, but that may not be all of the creditors. Once again, you don’t have to be a legal expert; you can hire an attorney to assist you.
In short, if you are not sure what to do or how to be the trustee, then I would advise you to see an attorney who practices trust administration. They can help you or even take over the administration if you wish. If you still don’t feel comfortable as the trustee, you can resign and let the next successor trustee handle it.
Michael B. Walling is an Elder Law & Estate Planning attorney with an advanced Master of Laws degree. He is the managing attorney at The Elder Law Center and the law firm of Michael B. Walling, PLC. He has offices in Battle Creek and Portage, Michigan. Mr. Walling is also a part-time Professor at Western Michigan University.
This column is intended for general information purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice to any particular person.