When establishing a trust, you need to give serious thought to choosing your successor trustee—the person who will administer your trust once you’re no longer able to do so. This individual ideally should be:

  • Someone you trust implicitly.
  • Someone who is organized, responsible and meticulous.
  • Someone who can remain steadfast to your wishes in the face of family disagreements and other disputes regarding the trust.

That said, even the most capable, well-intentioned successor trustees can make mistakes when managing affairs. Here are five surprisingly common mistakes along with steps to take to prevent them from happening.

1. Faulty Record-keeping

To ensure that a trust fulfills its purpose without being contested, the trustee must keep accurate, detailed records of income and distributions. Your trustee must also be prepared to report these figures regularly to the beneficiaries and heirs. If these records are incomplete or inaccurate, the door is opened for someone to challenge the trust, potentially leading to lengthy and costly court battles.

To prevent this mistake: Hire an accountant to assist the successor trustee in record-keeping, and make sure the trustee and the accountant make a connection before the trustee takes over.

2. Misunderstanding the Fiduciary Role

Many trustees mistakenly assume their job involves acting in the best interests of the person setting up the trust. In reality, their job is to act in the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. Furthermore, the trustee may be legally liable for any failure to protect the beneficiaries against bad investment advice concerning the trust.

To prevent this mistake: Detail the fiduciary role of the successor trustee in the trust documentation itself, and be certain that the trustee understands his/her role.

3. Not Collaborating Effectively with Your Established Financial Team

The successor trustee’s failure to communicate with key members of your team while administering your trust can lead to inaccuracies, misunderstandings and significant, preventable financial losses.

To prevent this mistake: Make sure your trustee is properly introduced to, and connected with, your attorney, CPA, financial planner and anyone else involved with your estate planning.

4. Failing to Discuss Compensation

If your appointed trustee is a close friend or family member, the topic of compensating the trustee may be glossed over or forgotten. This oversight can result in a lack of morale or even resentment if managing the trust becomes difficult or time consuming.

To prevent this mistake: Bring up the topic of compensation yourself when you establish the arrangement; be as generous as you deem necessary; and put the compensation terms in writing.

5. Failing to Remain Objective

Many people choose a close family member as a trustee. This strategy can be appropriate, especially when privacy matters. However, disputes about money can happen even in the tightest-knit families, and it can be difficult to near-impossible for a relative to remain neutral when resolving those fights. The end result could be decisions that family members perceive to be unfair or that wind up being inconsistent with your intentions.

To prevent this mistake: Make certain the person you choose can remain neutral and faithful to the terms of the trust, even under duress. If there is any doubt, consider hiring a corporate trustee with no emotional connection to the family or estate.

Selecting a successor trustee is one of the most important decisions you will make during your estate planning process. For insightful counsel on this issue, contact us today to schedule a private appointment.

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Zach Wiegand is a Minnesota probate attorney and estate planning attorney and the owner of Gold Leaf Estate Planning, LLC. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is an estate planning law firm that also handles probate and trust administration in Minnesota. We serve the Twin Cities metropolitan area with a focus on estate planning for clients in Burnsville, Eagan, Savage, Prior Lake, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Eden Prairie and the South Metro as well as clients in Woodbury, Lake Elmo, Maplewood, Oakdale, St. Paul and the East Metro. Our firm has offices in both Burnsville and Woodbury (Lake Elmo). The firm also handles probate in Dakota County, Washington County, Scott County, Hennepin County, and Ramsey County and most other counties in the Twin Cities Metro area. Zach has been named a Minnesota Super Lawyer – Rising Star for 2017, 2018, and 2019, and he is a member of WealthCounsel – a national organization of estate planning attorneys dedicated to practice excellence. You can contact Zach via e-mail at zach@goldleafestateplanning.com or by calling (952) 658-6503. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is located in Burnsville at 3000 County Road 42 W., Suite 310, Burnsville, MN 55337 and in Woodbury/Lake Elmo at 8653 Eagle Point Boulevard, Lake Elmo, MN 55042.

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