When you sit down to do your estate planning, you might consider using a revocable living trust, rather than a will, to direct the distribution of your property. People choose trusts for a variety of reasons, including the fact that trusts let beneficiaries avoid the substantial time and expense of probate. A trust can also be used to designate someone to manage your affairs should you become incapacitated and to act as your estate representative when you die. The person who steps in is called a successor trustee.
To understand the successor trustee’s role and importance, you should be familiar with some trust-related terminology. Every trust involves these participants:
- Grantor ꟷ Also called a settlor, this is the person who creates the trust and decides what assets should be put into it.
- Trustee ꟷ This is the person who manages the trust and distributes assets according to the directions given in the trust.
- Beneficiaries ꟷ These are the people or entities that will receive assets from the trust.
With a living trust, you are the grantor and can serve as the trustee while you are alive. You create the trust, you receive income from it and you manage the trust’s assets. But you will need to plan for the time when you can no longer manage your own affairs and for when you eventually pass away.
This is where the successor trustee comes in. Choosing your successor trustee is very important because the person you select will have full rights to manage the trust assets and to distribute them to beneficiaries when you die. The successor trustee can act without court supervision and can basically do anything with the trust property that is consistent with the instructions in the trust document.
Given the large amount of freedom and power the successor trustee has, you’ll want to choose someone whose judgment and character you trust. In New York, the law allows you to choose an adult family member, a friend, a business associate or even a corporation. Assuming you choose a person, you should also name several additional people as backups, in case your first choice cannot or will not take on the responsibility.
When choosing a successor trustee, consider the candidate’s honesty, reliability, financial savvy and willingness to take on the responsibility. Also consider their age. The chosen person should be young enough that you’re confident that they will still be alive when they are called upon to serve. Remember that your successor trustee does not have to be an expert in everything. Your lawyer can provide guidance to your successor trustee if needed.
The team at Goldberg Sager & Associates would be happy to meet with you and discuss revocable living trusts, successor trustees, and all related aspects of estate planning. Please call our Brooklyn office at 718-514-9516 or contact us online to arrange an attorney consultation.