Managing a settlor’s trust once they have passed is a big responsibility. Chances are, the settlor has already worked with you and prepared you for this role. Still, it can be an overwhelming process once the trust enters the administration phase. Here are three important steps you should immediately take as a successor trustee.
1. Take inventory of the trust
Locating and organizing all documents related to the settlor’s estate is crucial for moving forward. You will need to review each item and the provisions of the trust to make sure everything is there. Documents to look for might include:
- Original estate planning documents
- Bank statements
- House deeds
- Credit card bills
- Life insurance policies
- Tax returns
- Funeral instructions
Having each asset mapped out can make the process easier when you need to transfer items to the beneficiaries.
2. Get an appraisal
You will need to get an appraisal of the total market value of the assets in the trust. An appraiser can help you determine the value of things like property, jewelry and other personal belongings. Appraisals are especially important because some assets are liable to property or inheritance taxes. Knowing an asset’s value can help you figure out what taxes will be owed.
3. Notify necessary parties
Obviously, you will need to let the beneficiaries know of the settlor’s passing if they don’t already so that they can prepare for the transfer of assets. But other outside parties will also need to know that the settlor has passed. You should notify anyone who makes or receives recurring payments to or from the settlor. This can include the following:
- Social Security Administration
- Insurance companies
- Telephone companies
These parties need to be notified so you can either cancel the settlor’s account or transfer it to a beneficiary’s name. A phone call is typically the easiest way to notify each party. You may need to provide the settlor’s social security number, death certificate or account numbers when making these calls.
Although you won’t have to deal with time-consuming probate court, serving as a trustee can be a complex and stressful process. An experienced estate attorney may be able to ease the chaos and help you understand and fulfill your successor trustee duties.