One of the most important decisions we ask our clients to make is who they want to take over as successor trustee of their trust after the client’s disability or death. Many of our recommendations for this position are obvious; a trustee must be willing to take on the responsibility, should be a person or institution that the client trusts wholeheartedly, andideally has some relevant experience or knowledge. After (and sometimes despite) hearing this advice, most of our clients want to name family members, usually their spouse or adult children, as their successor trustees.
Naming a family member as trustee is not necessarily a bad idea, but it is crucial that you be honest with yourself, and your attorney, about your family dynamic. For example, we recently had a case where a mother named one responsible, level-headed child to serve as her successor trustee. However, her trust (not drafted by us) provided very little guidance to the successor trustee, which made it difficult and stressful for the successor trustee to deal with the demands of her greedy, bullying sibling. If the drafting attorney had asked the right questions, and the mother had been honest about her children’s personalities, detailed instructions and protections for the successor trustee child could have been built into the trust.
Another concern about leaving your trust in the hands of a family trustee is that he or she may not have the requisite knowledge or experience for the job. However, we believe that, with proper training, most family members can smoothly administer a trust without first passing the CPA or bar exam. At Cramer Law Center, training for family trustees and other estate plan “helpers” on what to do in the event of a disability or death is just one of many services we offer to our estate planning clients.