Happy Labor Day! What better to talk about on a day dedicated to the contributions of workers that have made this county great than the work that a trustee must do? If at this point you don’t know the difference between a will and a trust you should read July’s blog post.
Before going too in depth, I have to mention, a trust can be written in so many different ways that there’s no guaranteeing trustees will always have the same powers or the trust will always have the same provisions. As I write this, please realize a trust can come in several forms and I am only speaking in generalities.
Normally a trust is set up where the person creating the trust, the settlor or grantor, is also the trustee. While the settlor is alive and competent, they can continue using their assets like they normally would. It’s only when they can no longer make decisions or pass that they would stop controlling their assets.
This is when a successor trustee (named by the settlor) would take over. This means a successor trustee may control the trust assets at two different points and for the benefit of different people. The first time is when the settlor is still alive and the trustee must use the trust assets for the benefit of the settlor. This probably will include paying for medical bills, housing, and living expenses. It also will be the trustee’s responsibility to manage any current assets, including maintaining insurance on the belongings and keeping any property in good condition. Essentially, the trustee is the one responsible for making financial and legal (not necessarily medical) decisions for the settlor.
The other situation where the successor trustee takes over is when the settlor has passed. At this point, the terms of the trust cannot change. The trustee CANNOT change beneficiaries or change what the settlor has decided will happen. If the assets are to be distributed, the trustee may chose when to distribute assets and what to do with the possessions until then (again maintaining insurance, giving permission to use assets, etc).
The bigger responsibility is when the assets will be held in trust for a longer period. This is especially the case with minors. In this situation the trustee must decide how to spend the assets for the beneficiaries. They will have the discretion to use the money for college, food, housing, or even to withhold it. In this scenario, the trustee takes the place of the settlor in deciding how the money will be used. As such, it’s an extremely important decisions and must be placed with someone who the settlor trusts and who the settlor thinks will use the money in a way he or she would approve.
No matter why, when, or the time period, a trustee is ultimately in a position to control assets and make multiple administrative and financial decisions. Thus, when choosing a trustee, it’s extremely important to consider the prospect’s responsibility level, risk management abilities, financial abilities, and compare priorities.