You have been named by a friend or relative to administer a trust they set up as part of their estate plan. Sadly, the person has passed away, and you find yourself managing the details of the trust—seeing to it that its assets get managed and distributed to beneficiaries as laid out in the estate plan. Unless you’re familiar with what it takes to do things properly and legally, trust administration can be a challenging and overwhelming responsibility.
California has very specific rules when it comes to Trust Administration—all of them must be followed to the letter. When we talk about trust administration we’re talking about a lot of details:
You are administering the trust on behalf of the beneficiaries named by the grantor. Successor Trustees also manage the trust’s assets on behalf of those beneficiaries – which, as you might imagine, can have potentially contentious results. Challenges to the terms of the trust may result in litigation, with you defending your role as Successor Trustee.
The Role of a Specialty Law Firm
As a successor trustee, a smart decision is to work with a specialized law firm with the experience and resources to see that all legal Ts are crossed, and all Is are dotted. Not only do they guide you through your role as a successor trustee, but they also act as an intermediary between you and the beneficiaries should things get contentious. To reinforce the complex nature of Trust Administration, let’s examine what is required under California law.
Finding the Important Documents
Your first step involves locating the grantor’s estate plan and related documents – wills, trust papers, healthcare directives, and durable powers of attorney. You’d be surprised at how often grantors neglect to share the location of important supporting documents with their successor trustees. Written declarations concerning funeral, cremation, burial, and memorial instructions are essential in carrying out all the deceased wishes. Also, without them, the beneficiaries’ legal rights to assets can be challenged.
You are going to need a full list of all assets included in the trust: real estate, bank accounts, and investments included in a Living Trust. As the Successor Trustee, you should have a copy of the related documents in support of the trust’s designation as to which beneficiary gets what. Since personal items like furniture and other personal assets do not have deeds or documents, you can only hope they were included in the trust or spelled out in the Will. If they weren’t, fights over ownership might very well ensue. Only an estate attorney can help you out here.
What’s on the Trust List?
The asset list must include deeds, bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit card accounts, utilities, loans, life insurance policies, investments, contracts, business assets, utility bills, mortgages, personal loans, tax returns, medical bills, as well as the funeral bill. Things can get pretty complicated if statements of debts and assets suddenly appear sometime down the road. Attorneys conversant with trusts will account for such eventualities when administrating trusts. If the deceased has accidentally left a real property out of the trust, you will need an attorney’s help to straighten things out to the satisfaction of the state and everyone else.
What happens when, after carefully reading through all of the documents, you realize things are missing from the trust? Do not take this lightly. Such omissions can result in some very messy legal challenges. Any you find in your asset research should be immediately referred to an attorney.
The Law Offices of Michael K. Lanning: Trust Administration Attorneys
Considering all that’s required of you as a Successor Trustee, all of this should be enough to convince you that having a trust attorney on your side is a smart thing to do. Negotiating the California Trust Administration can be a tricky business, particularly if estates are complex. Why put yourself through the angst of possible legal complications? Worse, the thought of ending up on the wrong end of a personal liability suit filed by a disgruntled beneficiary is not what you signed up for when agreeing to be the Successor Trustee.
What We Do
Let’s Talk Trust Administration
We have personally seen estates gutted by legal fees when siblings challenge trusts in court. Of course, even the best-administered trusts can be challenged in court, but when you have the law on your side, things go a lot quicker and in your favor. The last thing you want is a challenge by the California Trust Administration if something got inadvertently left out. Ignorance of the law will be no excuse, and there you’ll be, right smack in the middle of a trust administration nightmare.
At The Law Offices of Michael K. Lanning, APLC, we have experienced estate attorneys to answer all your questions and provide the trust administration support you need. Contact us at 310-820-1600 or go to our website to learn more and set up a consultation.
We serve Los Angeles and the surrounding communities.