Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"What if I don't want to be a trustee?"

Monday evening I presented a program about wills and trusts at the East Lansing Public Library, and during that presentation someone asked what would happen if there was no one in their family that would undertake the job of being trustee of their revocable living trust.

Becoming a trustee requires that you "accept" the job - which is like becoming bound or obligated to fulfill the trust agreement - and if for some reason you can't do that job, you can decline to accept the trust or even resign if you have already started.

But then what? What happens next? Who will take over? Hopefully the creator of the trust named a successor trustee in the trust document that is willing and able to take on the trustee's responsibilities. But what if there is no one else designated?

Some trusts contain provisions allowing competent adult beneficiaries to choose a next successor trustee, others require a court to become involved in the appointment process.

What if there is no one in the family willing and able to serve? A professional trustee (like an attorney or other professional advisor), a financial institution or corporate trustee may be nominated and appointed through a probate court process and will administer the trust for a fee.

If you've created a trust to keep your estate out of court, you can see why your choice of trustee (and a few reliable alternates) is a very important decision.

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