If you’ve been named the trustee for your deceased loved one, you’ll have certain responsibilities that should be outlined in the revocable trust as well as by Florida state law. Your primary duties will include taking stock of all the trust assets, ensuring that the decedent’s debts and taxes are paid, and distributing the remaining trust assets to the appropriate beneficiaries. Many times, trust administration is relatively straightforward, but you may still find it useful to work with a probate attorney, especially if you know the trust contains unusual assets or you anticipate other obstacles.
Below are a few basic things you should know about serving as a trustee. For more in-depth information and answers to any trust or probate administration questions, contact a Florida probate lawyer at Wintter & Associates, P.A.
Documents You Should Gather as a Trustee
As you begin your work as the successor trustee for the decedent, you will need to gather the following documents:
- Death certificate: You should obtain at least eight copies of the death certificate because you’ll need to present it to multiple organizations as you go through the trust administration process. Typically, the funeral home you work with will order copies of the death certificate for you.
- Last will and testament: You will need to file the decedent’s will with your local probate court.
- Contact information for the beneficiaries: It is your responsibility to contact the beneficiaries named in the trust to notify them of their inheritance. If you’re lucky, the decedent will have clearly outlined the beneficiaries and how to contact them in their trust. However, if they use vague terminology like “children” instead of giving names, tracking down the beneficiaries may be more challenging, and you may want to work with a trust administration attorney.
- Federal tax ID number: You will need to contact the IRS to get a federal tax identification number for the trust, allowing you to report any gains and losses the trust incurs before you distribute it to the beneficiaries.
Basic Responsibilities of Trust Administration
The Florida Bar outlines the general responsibilities for a successor trustee, which include:
- Holding and investing trust property: You are responsible for managing all assets that have formally been included in the trust before they are distributed to the beneficiaries. You will need to avoid managing the trust in a way that is considered imprudent (for example, making risky investments) or else risk the beneficiaries taking legal action against you.
- Distributing trust income and principal to beneficiaries: The trust should clearly outline how the beneficiary wants their trust assets distributed, but if it is unclear, consult a trust administration lawyer.
- Pay taxes and debts concerning the trust: It will be important to monitor the decedent’s incoming mail and pay any debts from the trust, such as funeral and administrative expenses (the decedent’s personal representative should be responsible for handling personal debts, such as credit card bills and medical expenses). You’ll also need to determine the value of all the trust assets, as this must be included in the decedent’s taxable estate. You will likely need to hire a professional appraiser to go over account statements.
- Record all trust transactions: As mentioned above, you’ll need to keep close track of all the trust’s gains and losses in order to avoid facing trust litigation.
A Few Other Things Trustees Should Keep in Mind
In some cases, you may be both the decedent’s trustee and personal representative, but if you are not, you will need to work closely with the personal representative, as you will have to work together to determine the valuable of the taxable estate, and because the personal representative may transfer assets to the trust.
Keep in mind that you will need to contact Social Security to inform them of the decedent’s death. You are legally required to return a Social Security payment made any time during the month that the decedent passed away.
If the revocable trust is fairly straightforward, you will most likely be able to complete all your responsibilities within six months. However, if you are administering an ongoing trust—if the beneficiaries are still underage, for example—you will need to leave the trust open and continue managing and investing the trust assets for a longer period of time.
If administering a trust seems like a daunting task to you, or if you’ve encountered a stumbling block, don’t hesitate to contact professionals such as an appraiser and a trust administration attorney. No one is expecting you to have an in-depth knowledge of trust administration in Florida, and there are plenty of qualified professionals available to help you.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.