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An integral part of your estate planning is determining who will make financial decisions for you and your estate when you can’t make the decisions yourself. A trustee is the person or institution you name in your trust who will administer your estate and carry out the instructions in your trust during your incapacity and after you have passed away. Ultimately, your trustee will be distributing your assets to your beneficiaries and, depending on the structure of your trust, may even be overseeing and determining distributions for your beneficiaries as well. Your trustee has powers to do what they determine to be best for your estate.
So who should you name to serve in this important role for your estate? Does it have to be a family member? Do you have to name one of your beneficiaries as trustee? No.
If you want to name an individual as your successor trustee, consider the following:
Alternatively, you may want to select a professional fiduciary or corporate trustee as your successor. This may be a good option if you simply cannot decide on any one individual, if you predict conflict amongst your family members and prefer a neutral party to administer your estate, if you do not know anyone who you would trust to make good financial decisions, or if you have a large estate that may be best handled by a professional.
A professional fiduciary is an individual licensed by the State of California who is trained to serve in the capacity of a trustee, and will do so at a fee. Similarly, a corporate trustee will serve in the capacity of trustee, at a fee, but an institution is named such as a bank or trust company with a department that specializes in managing trusts.
I encourage you to put careful consideration into selecting your trustee. If you plan well in advance and select the proper trustee for your estate, then you can rest assured that your assets will be managed well and your beneficiaries will receive the ultimate benefit from the estate you leave them.
Christine Ellingsen is a Northern California native now practicing law as an estate planning attorney in Carmel Valley San Diego at the Barger Law Group, APC. She spent a year in New York working in the business sector before moving to Southern California to attend law school at the University of San Diego. She is happy to have started her law career in San Diego and to now call Encinitas home, where she keeps busy between exploring Coastal North County and training her new puppy.