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What it means to be a successor trustee

If you've been named a successor trustee you may be gratified to think that someone held you in high enough esteem to ask you to do the job.

Or, alternately, you may be somewhat mystified as to what exactly you're expected to do. Here's some help to get started.

What's a successor trustee?

The successor trustee is the person who fulfills the job of the trustee for someone's estate or living trust once the original trustee is no longer able to fulfill the role.

What do you do first?

Because you're taking over where someone else left off, it can be a difficult spot to be in. Depending on how long the original trustee has been managing things, and how well, there could be a lot of information and financial records to sort through just to understand what's going on.

Don't be surprised if you need help sorting out all the facets of the job. It may take the help of an estate attorney to walk you through all of the details of the trust itself. You may need an accountant to help you understand what's going on with the financials. If you're really lucky, the original trustee will have passed the job off to you while he or she is still around to give you some guidance -- but don't count on it.

What do you do next?

After you sort through all the paperwork and make sure that you understand what's going on with the trust, who the beneficiaries are and what the deceased intended, you need to find out what court filings need to happen. You'll also need to gather all the proof of your position so that you can get access to the trust money through the bank and any other companies.

Again, there are a lot of different documents you may need to locate and/or file. It is generally advisable, unless you have some significant experience with these things, to get help.

Once you have gained access to all the trust's assets, make sure that you a complete accounting of everything and match it up to the records. Only then can you begin the process of notifying the beneficiaries and administering the trust itself.

It takes a little while to get the hang of things. Once you're through the initial paperwork, however, it should start to feel far more routine and easier to handle.

Source: Living Trust Network, "You've Been Named As a Successor Trustee - Now What? Duties in the Administration of a Trust," accessed April 06, 2018

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