In Part 1 of this series, I discussed why one should be careful in selecting a trustee. Family members are often considered the most trustworthy with respect to family matters, so people typically select them as trustees. However, this endearing gesture can cause serious problems later:
Trust assets could be inadvertently wiped out. A trustee is usually responsible for managing the trust assets. If the trust is significant, the trustee should either have the required financial investment background or the ability to wisely choose someone with the needed background to act as the trust investment advisor. If the trustee is not well informed about investment matters relevant to the trust assets and does not employ someone who is, then the trust funds could dissipate leaving the terms of the trust unfulfilled, and probably one or more displeased beneficiaries. This last point is particularly important if the trust isn’t large, but the beneficiaries depend on its income for health and educational support, for example.
Valid claims could go unanswered; or a trust claim could be ignored. The trustee is responsible for responding to or initiating litigation on behalf of the trust. So if a long lost family member who would have been provided for had their whereabouts been known, emerges claiming they should receive under the trust, the trustee should properly address that claim. If the trustee is a family member, however, the problem becomes one of bias against that claim because a valid claim could dilute the current beneficiaries’ shares, possibly including the trustee’s share. Another problem is that it takes time to respond to these claims, time that a family member may not have. Equally important is a trust may have a claim that needs to be litigated. But, if the trustee does not recognize the claim issue, a potential financial award for the beneficiaries may go unnoticed.
Co-trustees don’t always agree. While the grantor may have gotten along well with both individuals, when it comes time to make a distribution decision or another decision involving the trust, the co-trustees may not see eye-to-eye and both could have valid perspectives. This type of disagreement starts many long-term family arguments resulting in costly court battles. If nothing else, by choosing a corporate fiduciary, the family will be at peace with each other and at war with someone else.
Trust administration responsibilities are time consuming and numerous. The following is an incomplete list of trustee duties:
- Distributing beneficiary shares
- Providing a regular accounting to beneficiaries
- Paying debts, taxes, fees and expenses associated with the trust administration
- Giving notice to guardians or legal representatives of beneficiaries who are minors or incapacitated
- Executing documents required for trust administration
- Settling claims against the trust, not just from possible beneficiaries but from estate creditors
- Buying insurance for trust assets
So, perhaps now you’re thinking that a Last Will and Testament may circumvent this “trustee” matter, but that’s not necessarily true. A Will’s executor or “personal representative” often has many of the same responsibilities as a trustee. So establishing a Will not only requires delegation to the executor some of the responsibilities above, but in Illinois, it also entails more costs and more time because of probate.
Therefore, it is critical to resist the urge to select a family member as a trustee – or executor – without first giving the decision the thought and discussion it deserves.