Executor & Trustee Guidelines
If you have been named executor of a will or trustee of a trust, these guidelines can help you understand what’s expected of you in the process.
- Represent the estate for legal purposes: Hire an estate attorney, petition the court, and attend court proceedings.
- Manage the affairs and expenses of the estate, including paying debts and expenses and collecting receivables, planning for cash and liquidity needs, having assets appraised or revalued if necessary, and, in some states, filing a probate inventory.
- Contact government institutions as needed, to obtain information such as an Employer Identification Number for the estate from the IRS.
- Issue notifications, such as public notice of probate in newspapers and statutory notice to beneficiaries to inform them of their interest in the estate.
- Attend to tax-related tasks, such as filing tax returns and a closing letter with the state’s tax bureau.
- Distribute assets to the beneficiaries.
If you’ve been named to serve as trustee, these guidelines provide an overview of some of the duties you would generally be expected to perform.
You can also use these guidelines to determine if you don’t have the skill, will, or time to administer the trust properly. Acting as a trustee is complex and time-consuming and you may be personally liable for the actions you take in the role. Additionally, it may be a good idea to consider family relationships and whether you will be able to make objective decisions and take actions in the best interest of the trust and beneficiaries.
There are options available to you as a trustee: You may be able to bring in a corporate trustee, like Fidelity,* to assist you in carrying out your duties. Ask a professional to help you understand your options and decide how to best proceed.
If you determine that you would rather not be a trustee, review the successor trustee language in the trust document to determine if a successor is already named or what is required to appoint one.
Trustees have many responsibilities, which include at least:
- Confirming key elements upon assuming the role of trustee: Ensure the assets are safe and under your control, that you understand the terms of the trust and who the beneficiaries are, and that all past account records are in order.
- Investing the trust assets (if applicable) in such a way as to make sure the assets are preserved and productive for current and future beneficiaries.
- Administering the trust according to its terms, including distributing trust assets to the beneficiaries, according to the trust agreement.
- Making any decisions that arise according to the provisions of the trust; this may include discretion over when beneficiaries may or may not receive payments.
- Preparing any records, statements, and tax returns as needed; also make any tax decisions relevant to the trust and keep all records on file.
- Communicating regularly with beneficiaries, including issuing statements of accounts and tax reports.
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