Being named the trustee of a loved one's estate is an enormous responsibility and an incredible honor. When asked, you were happy to oblige, agreeing to follow their wishes without hesitation. You signed on the dotted line and felt a sense of pride, because you knew they were leaving their estate in capable hands.
Fast forward to now. Your loved one has passed away and suddenly you're feeling extremely grief-stricken and overwhelmed. You might be questioning their decision to name you as trustee or doubting your abilities to get through this in one piece. What once seemed like a well-laid plan now seems impossible. Where do you even begin?
Understanding your role as trustee
First things first, you just lost a very special person in your life. It's okay to take some time to grieve, help with memorial service arrangements and get yourself organized. Within about a month of their passing you'll want to begin collecting information, documents, bills, mail and anything else in their name. You probably won't need a lawyer for these initial tasks, but that may vary depending on the circumstances.
Once you've gathered the above information, it's time to get started.
Serving as only the trustee
If you are only serving as the trustee and not the executor of the estate, stay in close contact with the executor. Before you begin distributing assets to the listed beneficiaries, you'll want to make sure the executor has transferred all remaining estate assets to the trust.
Serving as the executor and the trustee
If you are both the executor and the trustee of the estate and have gathered all previously listed materials, you will then begin the administration process.
Getting the process started
Whether you're overseeing a large estate or a simple trust, here's what you'll have to do:
- get death certificates (make 10 15 copies, you will need them)
- alert the Social Security Administration of the death
- notify the State Department of Health
- file the will with local probate court
- make copies of the will
- transfer assets to your name as the trustee
- get a copy of the funeral bill
- secure a Taxpayer Identification number
- identify beneficiaries listed in the trust
- notify the beneficiaries
- take complete inventory of the estate
- get assets appraised
- evaluate trust investments
- review and/or consolidate open accounts
- pay outstanding debts
A lot of times the funeral home will assist with some of the above tasks; they typically order the death certificates for you, and may even notify the Social Security Administration about the death. However, it is always recommended to double check that Social Security has been informed.
What comes next?
Once everything has been accounted for (assuming there were no issues with probate), you will begin distributing assets to the beneficiaries as specified by the trust. The whole process without complications can usually take anywhere from three to six months.