How to Appoint a Trustee Who Will Protect Your Legacy

Choosing a trustee to administer your revocable and irrevocable trust is essential to your estate plan. In order to secure your legacy, it’s crucial to not only select the right support for your estate but to also choose an appropriate trustee. The question of how to appoint a trustee, particularly one that will represent your estate without bias, is a familiar one to our team.

Many individuals turn to a family member or close friend to act as their trustee and executor. But the range of trustee choices is as varied as the population itself. What’s more, there are times when a family member or friend isn’t sufficient to fulfill this important role. As a result, we’re seeing an increasing number of clients who are choosing professional trustee services.

Before you ask a member of your family to be your trustee, it’s important to understand who can be a trustee–and, more importantly, who should be the executor of your estate. If you’re wondering how to appoint a trustee, take a moment to consider some important factors before you proceed.

1. Trustees are put in a difficult position by default.
  • Being appointed a trustee is not necessarily a prized position. A potential trustee may not be aware of the amount of difficult work, responsibility, potential liability, and stress involved in the estate settlement process. Not only must a trustee deal directly with a multitude of financial, tax, and legal issues, they must also contend with other family members through what can be a long and arduous process.

  • When it comes to estate settlement, the buck stops with the trustee. They must make decisions on priorities, asset liquidation, and deadlines for family involvement. When will the family clean out a home? When is the right time for the discretionary distribution of money and property? Knowing how to appoint a trustee who can handle these tasks could make or break the trustee’s family relationships. 

2. A trustee in the family can raise tensions.
  • Traditionally, a family member who is appointed to the position of trustee may see the position as a reward for good behavior and leadership within the family. Other members of the family may mistake this appointment as favoritism for the chosen individual, particularly if they don’t understand the work involved. Oftentimes, family members don’t understand how to appoint a trustee and may take offense that one individual was chosen over another.

  • Sometimes, making the decisions involved in estate settlement can sour relationships for years to come. Even if the trustee makes those decisions after deliberation and advice, and in accordance with “Mom’s and Dad’s wishes”, they may still raise tensions in the family. 

  • In our experience, we often see that the child or relative who covets the position of trustee may also be hungry for power and influence. This kind of influence in the family may cause family tensions, rather than soothing them.

3. There may not be an appropriate family member to fill the trustee position.
  • Sometimes, family members may be too busy, preoccupied with their own lives, or incapable of the multitasking necessary to be a successful trustee. In order to be successful in how to appoint a trustee, an individual must possess the following qualities:

  • Life experience • Trustworthiness • Diligence to complete tasks • Patience for following trust rules • Ability to communicate effectively with other family members • Ability to deal with lawyers and accountants • Ability to comply with deadlines • Ability to see a project through to the end with a complete accounting of activity

  • Ask yourself whether your son, daughter, or other trusted family member possesses all of the above qualities. Typically, families enjoy one or two members who have many of these characteristics. However, if you are able to identify those family members, you may not be able to guarantee that they have the time to be the trustee and executor of your estate.

4. A blended family may make it difficult to decide who should be the executor of your estate.
  • Blended families pose a unique issue when it comes to the choice of trust leadership. While trustees from each family can be chosen to work together, most of the time, each parent perceives one person from one side of the family to be the obvious choice. The choice may be “obvious” to them, but not necessarily to the heirs on each side.

  • In many cases, it may be difficult for this person to remain balanced and impartial. Families who want to know how to appoint a trustee often don’t consider the burden involved in remaining objective. But when it comes to estate settlement, impartiality is critical--especially when you want to maintain as much harmony as possible within your blended family after you’re gone.

5. Trustees are automatically liable for your estate’s full fiduciary responsibility.
  • A trustee’s substantial liability is an important consideration to take into account. Trustees must meet deadlines for filing taxes, providing accounts to beneficiaries, and court filings (in some cases). They are liable for decisions such as when to liquidate investments that may be volatile, for example, along with similar loaded judgments. Given this load of responsibilities, it is little wonder that trustees are often sued for their breach of fiduciary duty.

  • One could argue that family members who are not trained professionals are held to a lower standard, and therefore may have less potential for damage awards against them. But there’s something else to consider. If a family trustee is liable, chances are he or she does not have any errors and omissions insurance to cover their liability. If they are successful in defending a lawsuit, then they can expect the trust to pay for the attorney’s fees involved. Otherwise, they may be on the hook to pay their own way, which can be very costly.

  • Having your family member trustees held to a lower standard should not necessarily give you peace of mind. Presumably, you want your trustees to be held to a high standard of conduct. If you want to know how to appoint a trustee who knows the ins and outs of estate settlement, then offering the responsibility to a family member may not be the right answer.

6. Acting as a trustee for family members with special needs or difficult circumstances is a unique calling.
  • Sometimes, being put in the position of having to say no to a beneficiary is too much to ask of our family members. When it comes to administering a trust for siblings, nieces, nephews, or other family members who may have special needs, handicaps, or difficult circumstances, saying no can create a tremendous emotional burden on the trustee, as well as a strain on family relationships. Because of the emotional weight of navigating these decisions, it can be tremendously difficult for the trustee to remain objective.

7. Objective, professional trustee services can lighten your family’s load.
  • Rather than selecting a member of your family to assume the responsibility of trustee, consider partnering with an independent trustee. Not only do professional trustee services provide knowledgeable, trained professionals who specialize in estate planning; a professional trustee will also act compassionately, professionally and without bias.

  • Families are able to save both time and expense by working together with a professional trustee. And increasingly, clients who want to know how to appoint a trustee are choosing us to serve as professional trustees for their families.

  • Not all attorneys and accountants are trained to serve as trustees. We have nearly three decades of extensive experience, with senior attorneys who are not only involved in our clients’ estate settlement processes, but who also provide ongoing training to our team. When you partner with us, you can choose how you wish for the trustee relationship to proceed.

Members of our team can support you and your family by:

Acting as temporary, administrative trustees who take on your estate administration immediately after your death, before passing duties on to another permanent trustee of your choosing

Helping your permanent trustees get established and seek to provide a smooth transfer of administrative authority as quickly as possible

Acting as permanent administrative trustees who oversee your wishes for the long term

When you choose us to manage your trust and estate administration, we can offer the expertise, dedicated time, and objectivity you need to ensure your estate is handled in the smoothest way possible. Hiring an independent professional can make the difference between a successful and harmonious transfer and one that is uncomfortable or even acrimonious.

As professional trustees ourselves, we hold ourselves to the highest standards for the many responsibilities involved with settling an estate. We can be objective, and still find satisfaction in carrying out our clients’ wishes, difficult as it may be at times.

If you want to know more about how to appoint a trustee, or how to work with us, get in touch with us today. We’d love to hear from you.