What is the job of a Successor Trustee in a Revocable Trust?
Jesse Bifulco, Attorney, Camden Maine
Sometimes Successor Trustees do much of the work involved in managing property for the incapacitated trust-maker. However, more often, the Successor Trustee is like a CEO – overseeing the people hired to do the necessary jobs. For instance, tax returns, real estate management, investment decisions, can all be done by professionals qualified to do those things. And, after the trust-maker dies, the Successor Trustee can pay bills, make funeral arrangements, and pay whatever is left to the beneficiaries you designated when you made your trust in the first place. But even then, the Successor Trustee does not have to do it all themselves. In fact, it would be improper for a Successor Trustee to try to do things they’re not qualified to do. Even to the extent they need guidance, they are permitted, even required, to get the right advice.
In Maine the duties of a Successor Trustee are spelled out in a statute. The statute is MRS Title 18-B, the Maine Uniform Trust Code. Some of the duties of a trustee are
- Duty to administer the trust;
- Duty to use special skills (for instance if your trustee is an attorney, they must use their training as an attorney to manage your trust);
- Control and protection of the property;
- Record keeping and identification of trust property;
- Enforcement and defense of claims;
- Collecting the trust property;
Duty to inform and report (the beneficiaries).
A Revocable Living Trust is designed to allow you as the trust-maker to designate the people or companies that you trust, rather than leave that designation up to the court to decide
Do Successor Trustees Get Paid?
YES, Successor Trustees can get paid or they may volunteer. The law in Maine says that a trustee is entitled to compensation that is reasonable under the circumstances. A court can review the fees to determine if they are excessive. Private companies, such as banks, accountants and law firms have trustee fee schedules that establish how much they charge for their service.
Why a Revocable Living Trust?
A Revocable Living Trust is an estate planning document. Think of the trust like a container where you put all your stuff, so it won’t get lost. You may not think you need that now. But what if you, as the trust-maker, become mentally impaired? Then you become vulnerable.
You as the trust-maker made the trust to ensure your property would be protected for your benefit. That’s why, if you should lose your ability to manage things for yourself, you name a Successor Trustee. When you make your trust, you name a person or company that you choose to take over for you. That person or company also serves after you die, because you have already chosen a trustworthy person or company to carry out your last wishes. Revocable Living Trusts are popular estate planning tools, because they avoid “living” and “death” probate. In other words, if you should lose your mental capacity, you, as the trust-maker can avoid expensive court procedures, delays, public notices, and outsider interference with your wishes.
Who is the Initial Trustee of a Revocable Living Trust?
While you’re alive and well, you, as the trust-maker serve as your own initial trustee. But if you lose your mental capacity, someone else needs to do that job. The person who takes over is called the Successor Trustee. Yes, the Successor Trustee can be your husband or wife.
A Successor Trustee manages things during the mental incapacity or death of the trust-maker.
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