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What is the role of a successor trustee?

The successor trustee is the person who will take control of the trust after the grantor dies or becomes unable to complete his or her role.  Often, those named as successor trustee never seek out legal advice about their role and may informally assume the task of trustee, without going through the proper legal channels.  Handling a trust in this manner can have disastrous results.  Our Tampa probate and estate administration lawyers discuss the role of the successor trustee and what you as a successor trustee need to know below.

Trust Provisions

One of the most important provisions within a trust is language defining when and how the successor trustee will assume control of the trust.  Most trusts will provide that the successor trustee will take charge if the grantor is incapable of managing his or her own affairs.  Often, the trust will include standards for this determination, such as the opinion of two doctors as to the grantor’s mental state.

It may be tempting to simply take over the financial management of the grantor’s affairs without performing the necessary steps to assume control of the trust.  However, this could present a hazard when the grantor is no longer able to effectively manage his or her affairs.  For instance, if the successor has not been declared the sole trustee, the grantor will still have check writing power.  He or she could be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals or may spend money in a manner indicating an unsound mind.

Issues can further arise if there are multiple individuals attempting to take control of the estate.  Siblings or other relatives that were not named successor trustee may try to informally put themselves in the role, which could cause confusion and wasted resources.  By going through the appropriate channels, the successor trustee will have proper documentation of the grantor’s incapacity and their rightful status as trustee.

The successor trustee serves an important role.  It is imperative that the trustee fully understand their obligations as successor trustee and consult with an estate administration attorney for help performing the duties required under the language of the trust.