Being appointed trustee means that you have to take on a substantial fiduciary duty. Failure to act responsibly and in accordance with the law could mean that you could be individually liable for mistakes you made. One of the best things that you can do is to consult with a New York City estate attorney when you are appointed trustee so that you not only know what your duties are, but also have a better understanding of what the trust itself entails.
One of the first things you should do when a grantor (the person who founded the trust) dies is to find the trust paperwork, if you haven’t gotten it already. Once you have this, you will have an idea of who the beneficiary or beneficiaries are and which property is going to be included in the trust. It is essential to find these things out as soon as you can.
Once you have the trust document, you should notify all the beneficiaries of the trust (unless the trust states otherwise). After this, you should always keep in contact with the beneficiaries and give them periodic updates as to what is happening with the trust, along with giving accountings from time to time.
Once you have notified the beneficiaries, you will want to get a tax ID number and a death certificate. These things, along with the trust instrument are necessary to do various steps later.
Once you have gathered up the paperwork necessary to do your duty as trustee, you will want to gather up trust property and figure out what the value was as it was on the day the grantor died. For accounts that contain liquid assets, such as bank accounts, you may want to join all the accounts into one for simplicity’s sake. If personal property and real property is going to be used to fund the trust, you will want to secure all of that property and make sure that it is safe from harm or theft. Remember that you have a duty to pay all bills related to trust property and to insure property such as jewelry, cars or houses so that the trust doesn’t lose their value for some reason.
After all the trust assets are gathered up it is the duty of the trustee to distribute those assets fairly according to the trust document’s terms. This could mean that the trustee has to liquidate some assets. The trustee would also be responsible for investing those assets in a cautious and diverse manner so that the trust maintains its value.
Being named trustee means that a fiduciary duty is created, meaning that it is in the trustee’s be interest to hire a New York City estate attorney to be sure that all the duties set forth by the trust and under New York law is met. A trustee must work on behalf of the beneficiary first, taking special care to not to engage in self-dealing or in a way that represents a conflict of interest. Your attorney is the best one to give you guidance on the proper way to handle the trust.
Please have in mind that the actions described here are general. Many things depend on what is written in the trust document itself. For specific advise on the administration of the trust where you are a trustee, do not rely on the advice in this article but be advised by a trust attorney. If you are a trustee of a trust of a recently deceased individual, your best strategy would be to hire a New York City attorney who is experienced in helping trustees. Call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233.