Losing a loved one is never easy, and everyone needs time to grapple with the loss and grieve. But at the same time, if you are the surviving spouse or the appointed trustee of the Deceased’s Trust, you will also have to attend to the important business of settling the estate.
It is a little-known fact that you do not have to return to the attorney who drafted the Trust for trust administration services. You can seek advice and counsel from any attorney you choose. So, if you didn’t like working with the original estate planning attorney, or Mom and Dad’s lawyer is no longer in practice, don’t worry.
After the death of a Trustor (the individual who set up the Trust) there are legal procedures to follow, and it is highly recommended that you engage an attorney to guide you and advise you on your responsibilities, liabilities, and how to comply with California probate law. The duties and responsibilities of the Successor Trustee may vary depending on the provisions of the Trust, the value and type of assets, and who has been named as the beneficiaries.
Here are five of the crucial steps to Trust Administration:
- Review and Notice
- Review the Trust documents carefully.
- File the Will (usually called a “Pour-Over” Will because it “pours” any orphaned assets into the Trust after death, with the probate court. The purpose of this is not to initiate a probate case, but to eliminate the possibility of tampering with the original Will.)
- Notify beneficiaries: Anyone who is intended to benefit from the estate must receive a specific notice which informs the beneficiary of the death and the existence of the Trust and who is administering the Trust. They are informed that they may request a copy of the Trust and may file any claims or objections within 120 days.
- Notify excluded heirs: Potential beneficiaries who are not designated a share of the estate must also receive notice. They are entitled to the same 120-day period to file any claims or objections.
- Notify the IRS: The tax authority must also receive notice of the death and the name of the Successor Trustee.
- Obtain a New Tax ID Number
The decedent’s social security number ceases to be valid once they have passed away, so a new tax ID number for the estate must be issued by the IRS.
- Inventory and Appraisal of Assets
The Successor Trustee must also inventory and appraise the value of all Trust assets as of the date of death of the Trustor. An experienced estate planning attorney can assist with retitling financial accounts, real estate property, and other assets into the name of the surviving spouse or Successor Trustee as appropriate. This allows the Successor Trustee to manage and/or distribute assets efficiently to the beneficiaries.
- Surviving Spouse May Have Work To Do
Even if you are the surviving spouse of a jointly created Living Trust, and all assets go to you, there still may be notifications due to beneficiaries and asset retitling to do, among other vital tasks. Check with an experienced estate planning attorney on what actions you may need to take as the surviving spouse.
- Manage and Distribute Assets
The Successor Trustee must also manage the assets throughout the trust administration process, which may include selling or liquidating assets. All trust assets must be productive, which means they must be invested or producing income of some kind. This can be a confusing responsibility for the Successor Trustee. Advice and counsel from an experienced attorney will help tremendously to get the Successor Trustee through the trust administration process with ease.