Choose a Trustee

Choose a Trustee with These Three Characteristics

If it’s time to choose a trustee, carefully consider these three characteristics: their reputation, empathy, and procedural approach.

Transitioning from a long-standing relationship with an advisor, teacher, coach, doctor, lawyer, CPA, trustee, or financial advisor – whether due to retirement or relocation – can be difficult. Establishing a connection with someone new doesn’t always come easy. Even if your former advisor wasn’t perfect, there’s a reason why you stuck with them.

Solo advisors are some of the hardest to replace. “This time,” you say to yourself, “I’m going to have a professional with a backup plan.” You might get introduced to a large organization, but it leaves you uneasy because you’re losing the personal warmth and attention you were used to. You may tend toward a small to mid-sized group that you can quickly gain a high sense of trust, with high touch, and high compatibility.

It’s no different with a fiduciary relationship, such as a trustee. A trustee needs to be – wait for it – trustworthy – but also reliable, understanding, a good steward of assets, tenacious, ethical, and experienced. (If you were following, that spells out “TRUSTEE.”) Let’s boil that down to three tests of your relationship with a new trustee: reputation, empathy, and procedural approach.


One of the first ways you get a new lawyer, trustee, doctor (etc.) is by reputation – a recommendation from a friend or colleague, perhaps somebody within the same firm, or perhaps you have found evidence, online, of the person’s positive following. Incidentally, not every good lawyer or financial advisor or CPA should be a trustee. In addition to professional designations, look for years of experience as a fiduciary, and association with a strong firm as indicators of an earned reputation.


When you choose a trustee, their capacity for empathy is important because of the purpose of the trust: to be responsive to your needs. The trustee may not always respond the way you want, but they should try hard within the constraints of the trust instrument to listen, explain, and be understanding in making (or not making) distributions.

Procedural Approach

Having a process and being connected to a good team may be the most important characteristic when you choose a trustee. Why? Having a good process in place is needed because the trustee must: 

  • be a careful custodian of assets
  • provide reliable distributions within the trust principles
  • give timely reports
  • comply with trust laws and taxes

You can’t trust them to be there for you unless they have a system for juggling all these responsibilities at the same time.

Have questions about selecting a trustee? Schedule a complimentary appointment with our Trust Officer, Paula Nolan, who can discuss options that are available to you.