Delegation of Successor Trustee’s duties

Delegation of Successor Trustee’s duties

Much is said about the care a successor trustee on a trust must exercise. But, how does the non-lawyer to whom such duties are given protect himself and avoid being caught in a crossfire between unhappy beneficiaries and the successor trustee' who, perhaps, over-delegated and now might blame the 'non-lawyer'?


If you are a "successor trustee" that means you have not yet been appointed to be an acting trustee and you probably don't have any responsibilities until the event occurs that makes you a trustee. When such an event occurs you should consult with an estate attorney immediately. Likely the trust, not you, pays for the consultation. At that meeting you need to address a number of points.

  • What are your responsibilities. This will require a reading and explanation of the document creating the trust appointing you (a will or trust agreement). It will require consideration of state law as well. This is not a simple matter. You need to address income tax reporting for the trust, distribution decisions, investments, and much more.
  • How can you assure yourself that you are not taking on a problem created by the prior serving trustee. Part of the answer to this is to have an "accounting" done before you start. This will formally show what assets and liabilities you are taking on as trustee and hopefully isolate any problems that were not yours to the prior serving trustee. Be sure to put together a listing of all documents you will need to do your job: trust agreement, prior income tax returns, documentation on the assets in the trust, files confirming the status and needs of the beneficiaries, etc.

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