You have been named and accepted a role as the successor trustee of a revocable trust. The trustor has died. Now what? Some preliminary guidance:
1. If you do not already have copies, obtain and read the decedent’s estate planning documents as soon as possible. Determine your duties and how to carry them out.
2. Ascertain whether you need to be bonded (many estate planning mechanisms waive the bond requirement).
3. Locate and value the trust’s assets. You may need one or more professional appraisers to assist with the valuation process concerning assets such as real estate, artwork, jewelry and business interests. As an aside, the valuations will assist you in determining whether the decedent’s insurance coverage on the trust’s assets is adequate.
4. Most states have a statutory procedure for providing notice of the decedent’s death to and paying known and reasonably ascertainable creditors. Certain liabilities, such as those for property taxes and insurance, should be ascertained especially early on in the administration process, and paid as required, to avoid adverse effect to the assets of the trust.
5. You are tasked with the preparation and filing of certain tax returns, such as the decedent’s final tax return and any required gift tax return. In general though, get a CPA into the loop right away. The tax consequences of the timing of certain distributions can be significant for the beneficiaries of the trust.
6. Most expenses you will incur in the administration of the trust are appropriately payable from the assets of the trust, including items such as funeral expenses, fees for attorneys and accountants, appraisal fees and insurance premiums. Promptly providing the decedent’s bank and brokerage account officers with the required documentation allowing you to access to those funds will greatly facilitate the expense paying process.
7. You will likely be entitled to receive reasonable compensation for your services rendered as trustee.