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Tips for Choosing the Right Trustee

by | Sep 29, 2023 | Firm News

Tips for Choosing the Right Trustee

Choosing a Trustee is never an easy task.  Who can step into your shoes and pay your bills and take care of you if you are unable to manage your finances? Who will take on the burden to wind down your trust after you have passed away?  “Who can take a sunrise and sprinkle it with dew…the candy man can…” Let’s face it being a Trustee is not a role for the candy man, and if you have ever been a Trustee you likely know it is a pretty thankless job. However, if you have a trust or are contemplating creating a trust then you will need to name a successor trustee if you are unable to act.  Below are a few tips for choosing the right Trustee.

Tips for Choosing a Private Professional Trustee (“fiduciary”)

  1. Research the Trustee’s reputation: Before choosing a Trustee, do some research on their reputation. Speak with your attorney, look at their website, and ask around. Has anyone had an experience with this fiduciary?  What organizations are they a member of?  I am always leery of online reviews because a disgruntled beneficiary could be upset over something the Trustee had no control over, such as a particular term in a trust or being disinherited by a parent.
  2. Check their credentials: Make sure the fiduciary is licensed and certified to provide the services they offer. You can check with your state’s regulatory agency to verify their credentials. The Department of Consumer Affairs Professional Fiduciaries Bureau is where you can confirm licensing for California fiduciaries.
  3. Look for experience: Choose a Trustee who has experience working with clients with similar needs. For example, if you have a child with special needs that will have a lifetime trust maintained for their benefit upon your passing, find a fiduciary that works with this type of issue.
  4. Consider communication style: Choose a Trustee who communicates clearly and effectively. This can help ensure you understand the services they provide and any recommendations they make.  Interview them and see if it’s a good fit.  What is their process like?  How will they engage with your beneficiaries?  Do they have their own contingency plan if they retire?  What level of staffing do they have?

Tips for Choosing a Non-Professional Trustee

  1. Pick a Neutral Person: If you are thinking of using a child, family member or friend use a calm neutral person.  Do not pick the oldest because you want to be fair and list in birth order.  Do not list all your children as co-trustees. The level-headed person that gets along with everyone is usually your best bet.  The goal is to have an easy administration without a lot of controversy.  By picking the right person you are ensuring that your wishes are maintained and you are minimizing the fighting among family members.
  2. Are they organized: Think Clea & Joanna from Home Edit! You want someone that is organized and can keep things neat and moving forward.  Keeping detailed records and making sure you are getting all the things completed that it takes to handle a proper trust administration is a tall order, pick someone that is up for the task.
  3. Look for availability: Choose a Trustee who has the bandwidth to take on the role.  A person that has time and the ability to juggle their work and family along with taking on your trust administrating is going to be able to get your administration to stay on track.  However, sometimes people want the person that appears to be the most competent because they are taking on a lot in their own life, but they will not have the time to handle your administration.  Just because they are competent does not mean they are the right fit for the role.