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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.

The executor (sometimes referred to as executrix for females) is responsible for managing the affairs of and settling the estate, including initiating court procedures and filing the deceased’s final tax returns.
The trustee acts as the legal owner of trust assets, and is responsible for handling any of the assets held in trust, tax filings for the trust, and distributing the assets according to the terms of the trust. Both roles involve duties that are legally required. If you don’t feel you can carry them out effectively, you may be able to hire a professional to help carry out the duties or step down and allow someone else to assume the tasks.Each state has different rules and each situation is unique, so you should always consult with an attorney or tax advisor.

Executor guidelines

If you have been named executor of a will, these guidelines may help you understand what’s expected of you. You can also use them to determine if you would rather not serve as executor.If you determine you would rather not act as the executor, the will may name an alternative or an attorney can help you petition the courts to have another executor appointed if necessary.Generally, the executor of an estate may be expected to perform certain types of duties, including:

  • 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.

Trustee guidelines

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.

Read more related articles at:

The Role and Responsibilities of a Trustee

Understanding the Duties of a Trustee in Administering a Trust

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:

You’re An Executor…Now What?

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