For some, the hardest part of estate planning can be choosing the trustee to oversee a trust. The decision can raise stubborn personal and logistical problems. Still, waiting to finish an estate plan until the trustee question seems easier is rarely a better choice.
To help in selecting the right trustee, here are a few pros and cons of some obvious as well as less-familiar options.
Family or friends should have qualifications
Whoever cares most can be a tempting trustee, but financial choices are typically between two sets of risks or ways of seeming unfair. Caring most isn’t always needed most.
A loved one who is informed, savvy and insightful about money and investing might be a great choice, as Forbes point out. Understanding that such decisions typically benefit from deep expertise, they often already have their own professional investment adviser.
Although the law generally entitles trustees to take a fee, family members may not choose to charge one. This saves money in the short run but without compensation, the work of trusteeship may soon cause resentment or inattention. An yet, taking a fee might spark family resentments, power games, and the like.
Attorneys and accountants may offer understanding
A family attorney or accountant may know the family’s personalities and long-term needs. As trustee, they may also be flexible in looking for and allowing creative solutions to solve changing problems.
On the other hand, many families’ long-time advisers are near retirement age themselves and may not be advising for long. A trustee with backup could resolve that concern.
Trust companies often costly but sturdy trustees
Trust companies are in the trusteeship business, often as divisions of a commercial banks. Their styles, services and fee structures vary. Many consider them worth the price for what they may see as the most trustworthy trustee.
Trust companies offer the promise of following the letter of the law and the estate plan. If need be, they will say “no” to requests that conflict with the plan and are often used if family disagreements seem likely.
This inflexibility can also be a downside, especially as the needs of the beneficiaries evolve. Trust companies can also be hard to “fire,” a concern that can be addressed by a well-drafted trust document and, perhaps, by assigning a well-defined “trust protector” as backup.