Many people incorporate trusts into their estate plan because of the benefits a trust can offer. Assets in a trust do not go through probate, meaning that they can pass to beneficiaries more quickly and easily. There are many types of trusts offering different advantages, such as protecting assets from creditors or minimizing taxes.
The most common type of trust is a revocable living trust, also called simply a “living trust.” Living trusts are popular because they not only bypass probate, but they allow the person creating and funding the trust (the grantor) to continue to use and enjoy the trust assets throughout their lifetime; the grantor also acts as trustee, managing the assets in the trust.
After the grantor/trustee dies (or becomes legally incapacitated) a successor trustee takes over management of the trust. The successor trustee is named in the trust document, so no court involvement is needed for the successor trustee to assume their role. The successor trustee may be a professional, such as an attorney, or a family member or friend.
Successor trustees are obligated to manage trust assets in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. The duties of a Florida successor trustee typically include:
Most trustees who are family members have never carried out these duties before, and the obligations of a trustee can be overwhelming. At John Fitzgerald Correa, PLLC, a substantial part of our practice involves working with Florida successor trustees and helping ensure they comply with their obligations under the trust and Florida law. We will educate you about your duties as trustee and help ensure that you carry them out in a timely and proper fashion.
It is common for grantors of living trusts to appoint a family member as successor trustee, but these appointments are not without problems. Family members may not have the financial management skill or experience to properly administer the trust. They may not realize the amount of work involved in managing the trust, or fully understand their obligations as a fiduciary (someone obligated to act in the best interests of others). A trustee who is a family member may initially decline the compensation a trustee is entitled to, only to change their mind later when they realize the level of work the role involves.
Trust disputes can be another issue that arise when a family member serves as successor trustee. Beneficiaries may become suspicious that the trustee is not acting in their best interests, or is otherwise not fulfilling their duties as trustee. Sometimes these suspicions are unfounded, and arise because beneficiaries are not getting the information they need. Sometimes the trust isn’t being managed properly, but due to the trustee’s inexperience rather than bad intent. Whatever the reason, concerns over management of a trust can cause a rift between family members and even lead to legal action.
If you are a successor trustee, the assistance of a Florida attorney experienced in advising trustees can help you avoid these pitfalls. The attorneys of John Fitzgerald Correa, PLLC have experience in the administration of living trusts, including preparations of inventories, accountings, and tax returns. Many trustees find trust tax issues the most burdensome part of their duties. As experienced tax attorneys with advanced degrees in tax law, we can lift the burden of tax filings for trusts from your shoulders.
The services of an experienced trust attorney are a benefit to the trust, streamlining administration and ensuring that the rights of beneficiaries are protected. If you have questions about Florida living trusts, or need help with your duties as a successor trustee, we invite you to contact John Fitzgerald Correa, PLLC to schedule a consultation.