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Trustee Support Services

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I am a Trustee or Executor, 

and I Need Help Managing an Estate

Trustee support:  For those who find themselves in the position of acting as trustee to someone else's estate, we provide support throughout the process, leading trustees through the maze of legal and financial requirements until final disbursement. Michelle's expertise is in coordinating efficient and competent teams of legal and financial professionals eases the burden of estate management and minimize the liability of the trustee/executor.   It is not unusual for us families to use our services to handle multiple estates over more than one generation. We prepare estate and trust tax returns and trust accountings for beneficiaries and the probate court, if necessary. Our trust accountant is a Certified Financial Planner,  and our trust/forensic bookkeeper is a licensed real estate broker.  Often, beneficiaries are relieved when they learn that our professional team is assisting their trustee. 

What is a Trustee?

A trustee is an individual/bank/trust company that holds legal title to property for the benefit of another and acts according to the terms of the trust.

What Are My Responsibilities As A Trustee?

  1. Fiduciary Responsibility. Trustees are held to scrupulously high standards -- charged with paying greater  attention to the trust investments and disbursements than for their own accounts.
  2. Prudent Investment. Trustees should never make speculative or risky investments and must take into account the interests of both current and future beneficiaries. For instance, current beneficiaries may be entitled to income from the trust. In most cases, their interest would be best met by investing the trust funds to generate maximum income. However, this may be detrimental to the interest of later beneficiaries who would prefer growth investment. In addition to balancing the interests of the various beneficiaries, their future financial needs must be taken into account. Does a trust beneficiary anticipate buying a house or going to school? Will she be depending on the trust income for retirement in  years? Such questions must be considered in determining a trust investment plan. Only then can a trustee evaluate the propriety of individual investments.
  3. Secure Assets. A trustee must secure and monitor all recorded assets. One of the trustee's most important roles is the ability to say "no," to secure the assets, and to set limits on the use of the trust assets. This can be difficult with a “needy” beneficiary. The timing and amount of asset distribution are very important.

What Are My Duties As A Trustee?

  1. Read the Trust.  The trust should be carefully examined – both at the outset and when questions arise. The trust is a road map and the trustee must follow its directions: when and how to distribute income and principal or what reports need to be made to beneficiaries.  Our office will review the trust document with you and consult with your attorney, as necessary.
  2. Marshal the Assets. It is the fiduciary's responsibility to take control of (marshal) all assets comprising an estate or trust. It is absolutely crucial to secure and value all assets as soon as a fiduciary assumes office at the grantor's or testator's death. Some assets, such as brokerage accounts, may be accessed immediately once certain prerequisites are met. Our office works with most banks and brokerage houses in the area and can help with the closing of accounts.
  3. Consult with Experts. Unless fiduciaries have financial experience, they should seek professional advice regarding the investment of trust assets. Hire financial advisors to make investments, accountants to handle taxes and bookkeeping for the trust, and lawyers to advise on questions of interpretation. With such professional assistance, the job of a trustee need not be difficult. However, trustees still need to communicate with those they hire and make discretionary decisions, such as when to make distributions of principal from the trust to one or more beneficiaries. The usual practice is to engage a professional appraiser to value the decedent's tangible property, such as household furniture, automobiles, jewelry, artwork, and collectibles. We work with those experts or refer qualified attorneys, CPAs and other experts, as needed.
  4. Accounting. One of a trustee's jobs is to keep track of all income to, distributions from, and expenditures by the trust. Generally, trustees must provide beneficiaries with an annual account of this information, unless the terms of the trust indicate otherwise. In strict trust accounting, trustees must track and report on principal and income separately. Our office will interface with the beneficiaries of the trust and will prepare trust accountings that will hold up to court scrutiny.
  5. Taxes. Depending on whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable and whether it is considered a "grantor" trust for tax purposes, the trustee must file an annual tax return and pay any taxes. In many cases, the trust will act as a pass-through with the income being taxed to the beneficiary. Our CPA has more than 0 years of experience in the preparation of trust tax returns.
  6. Pay-off Liabilities. It is the fiduciary's duty to determine when to settle bills unpaid at death, and expenses incurred in the administration of the estate, or notify creditors of temporary delay. The fiduciary also must file an annual income tax return for the trust. The fiduciary can be held personally liable for interest and penalties if the income tax return is not filed and the tax paid by the due date, generally April . Estates may be closed when the trustee has paid all debts, expenses, and taxes, has received tax clearances from the IRS and the state, and has distributed all assets on hand. Our office can perform a search of unrecorded liabilities and “hidden” assets to reduce trustee liability.
  7. Make Specific Bequests. Family dynamics often leave parents few alternatives but to make specific bequests of various items, resulting in a complicated estate plan. While this may mean a parent has to change a will or trust more frequently, Trusts and Wills often provide that a particular asset pass to a certain beneficiary. Such a bequest is called a “specific bequest” in that it is satisfied only by the beneficiary's receipt of the specific property identified in the Trust and Will. The trustee must check all specific bequests and ensure that they are valid. Sometimes specific bequests cannot be met when the person dies. For example, Bill wants to give 0 shares of stock to his daughter, but at the time of his death he doesn’t have the shares; then the specific bequest will fail and the beneficiary doesn’t get the shares.
  8. Distribute Assets. Where trustees have discretion on whether to make distributions to a beneficiary they need to first evaluate the beneficiary's current and future needs, other sources of income, and their responsibilities to other beneficiaries. And these considerations must be made in light of the size of the trust. The most important role of a trustee is the ability to say "no," secure the assets, and set limits on their use. This can be difficult when the need for current assistance is readily apparent. The timing and amount of distributions is very important.

Potential Trust Issues that may require outside expertise-

  • Blended families that don’t get along.
  • Problem children (addictive disorders, mental illness, criminal history, etc.).
  • Family business with no succession plan.
  • Taxes and debts with insufficient liquid assets to pay them.
  • A family member who won’t move out of the family home.
  • Joint accounts that pass outside the will or trust.
  • Parents who decide on an unequal distribution to the children but fail warned them these plans.
  • Unusual or hard-to-value assets in the estate.