21 Things You Must Do as a Trustee

21 Things You Must Do as a Trustee

First and foremost, we want to extend our heartfelt condolences. If you’ve come across our blog seeking this information on the 21 things your must do as a trustee, it’s possible that someone close to you has recently passed away. Please accept our sincerest sympathies.

Today, we are going to talk about the 21 essential tasks imperative for any estate trustee. Within the contents of this blog, we’ll comprehensively outline all the elements you should be aware of when engaging in trust administration. While some of the items on this list may not directly relate to real estate, it’s worth noting that a significant number of estates, upon reaching the stage of asset liquidation, involve real estate transactions. However, the complexity of the trustee role goes far beyond this aspect, which is why we’ve put this list together.

With the information we’re about to share, our aim is to facilitate this next chapter of the process with ease and simplicity. Furthermore, we genuinely hope that this guidance contributes to the most positive outcome possible during this moment.

A brief contextual note:
We have been pursuing a professional designation called Real Estate Planner offered by Keller Williams. This pursuit not only enhances our capacity as real estate professionals to assist our clients but also serves to educate the broader public on the process of transferring, building, and protecting generational wealth through real estate.

We are not attorneys or CPAs. Each person’s situation is unique, so we recommended consulting your trusted CPA, trust attorney, and/or other advisors to ensure you receive the most relevant information for your specific circumstances. The entirety of the information we’re sharing today is of a general nature.

As a fundamental starting point, which holds true for all these tips, remember to take a deep breath. It’s crucial to prioritize self-care and the well-being of those around you, given the significance and challenges of this period. Keep this in mind as you navigate through the stages of this process. Here’s our list of the essential 21 tasks that you, as a trustee, need to undertake:

Tip No. 1: Obtain Original Copies of Death Certificates.

Though it may seem a somewhat somber task, it’s imperative to start by ordering original copies of death certificates. This initial step might not be top-of-mind, but it’s essential for trustees. Attorneys usually recommend acquiring a minimum of five copies, yet in practice, anywhere from 10 to even 20 copies may be required. Failing to secure these certificates upfront can lead to lengthy delays and increased expenses.

Furthermore, not having the originals on hand can significantly delay the entire process. Therefore, it’s best to ensure you have an ample supply of five, 10, or even 20 copies, depending on the circumstances. This is especially pertinent when the decedent had multiple accounts, such as brokerage accounts, various mortgages, and multiple bank accounts. Each entity you correspond with typically requires an original copy, so plan accordingly to avoid complications.

Tip No. 2: Familiarize Yourself with the Trust Documents.

The second essential task entails studying the trust documents. It’s vital to meticulously read through all these documents to gain a comprehensive understanding of the upcoming process. Within the trust, you’ll encounter various timelines, directives, and wishes that require your attention. These factors can sometimes be time-sensitive or focused on maximizing the value of the assets. Familiarize yourself with these specifics.

Additionally, it’s recommended to connect with a trust and estate attorney. Ideally, this should be the attorney who drafted the original trust. However, given that trusts are often established long ago, the original attorney might no longer be available. In such cases, it’s prudent to engage a different trust and estate attorney. Seeking online reviews and personal recommendations from trusted sources can aid in finding a suitable professional.

If you’re situated in the San Francisco Bay Area, feel free to reach out to us. Our extensive network in the region enables us to connect you with exceptional attorneys.

Tip No. 3: Compile a List and Gather Records of All Assets.

Next is making a comprehensive list and assembling records of all assets containing monetary value or importance. This includes banks, financial institutions, credit unions, mortgages, investment properties, and more.

Creating a centralized list is advised for ease of management. Though ideally, such accounts should already be part of the trust documentation, this is not always the case. Assets might be inadvertently omitted or new ones might have arisen since the trust’s inception. Begin collecting and organizing these records early to streamline the administration process.

Tip No. 4: Collect Records of All Debts.

The fourth step involves compiling documentation of all debts associated with the deceased individual. Similar to the approach for assets, develop a master list encompassing various liabilities such as mortgages, auto loans, student debts, and credit card obligations.

Tip No. 5: Incorporate Insurance Policies into Your Master List.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to add all insurance policies to your consolidated list of both assets and liabilities. Record all insurance policies that were active at the time of the individual’s passing. This encompasses life insurance, disability coverage, home insurance, and Medicare, including homeowners, renters, and automobile insurance. These records are indispensable for future actions that might need to be taken regarding insurance policies.

Tip No. 6: Inform the Social Security Office.

As a preventive measure against identity fraud, contact the Social Security Office to inform them of the individual’s passing. This helps safeguard against unauthorized use of the deceased person’s Social Security number for illicit purposes. Beyond this security aspect, you can also inquire about any potential social security benefits linked to the individual.

Tip No. 7: Inform the Credit Reporting Agencies.

Continuing with the theme of safeguarding against unauthorized activities, reach out to the credit reporting agencies. Provide them with the relevant details, including the name, aliases, and social security number of the deceased individual. This step is vital to prevent unauthorized debts from being incurred under the trust’s name. Such preemptive actions can prevent unauthorized credit card use, for instance, which could result in significant financial losses for the estate.

Tip No. 8: Notify Utility Companies.

Our eighth recommendation is to reach out to all the utility companies associated with the deceased individual. This includes telephone, water, sewer, gas, and other utilities tied to their life.

This step is crucial for several reasons. One primary consideration is to prevent any outstanding payments that might arise on their behalf or on behalf of the estate. For instance, take cable and internet services, where late fees can accrue due to delayed return of equipment. By addressing these matters promptly, you can avoid such inconveniences down the line. Sometimes, even just a few months can lead to a significant amount of added expenses.

Tip No. 9: Contact the Post Office.

Our ninth guideline involves reaching out to the Post Office. Ensure that you arrange for the forwarding of mail from the decedent’s address to yourself as the trustee. This action ensures that critical communications such as bills and credit card statements reach you, allowing you to stay informed about the estate’s financial affairs. Preventing mail from going astray and landing at an unfamiliar residence is essential, particularly if you reside outside the state.

Tip No. 10: Reach Out to Relevant Agencies.

As a trustee, it’s essential to establish contact with various agencies pertinent to the decedent’s circumstances. Depending on their background, this could include agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs if the decedent was a veteran, the Department of Homeland Security for security clearance matters, or the Department of Healthcare Services if they were receiving Medi-Cal benefits at the time of their passing. While the latter applies specifically to California, other states have comparable programs that require attention.

Tip No. 11: Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Our eleventh suggestion involves notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the state where the decedent resided. This step is crucial for closing out any IDs, vehicle registrations, or disabled placards associated with the individual. It’s a way to bring closure to this aspect of their life.

Tip No. 12: Contact Employment Benefits Providers.

The next task involves getting in touch with employment benefits providers. This pertains to any pension plans or ongoing insurance relationships established through past or present employment. Ensuring that these arrangements are appropriately addressed is essential for tying up any loose ends associated with their working life.

Tip No. 13: Compile a List of Physical Assets.

Following that, it’s imperative to generate a list of all physical assets present within the decedent’s home. This includes items of value such as jewelry, artwork, electronics, and more. Creating a comprehensive inventory provides a structured approach. This list can then be compared to the will, if available, facilitating the process of adhering to the decedent’s wishes. This organization minimizes potential family disputes and ensures that both valuable and sentimentally important items are distributed appropriately among beneficiaries.

Tip No. 14: Close Social Media Accounts.

Our next piece of advice is to close all of the deceased individual’s social media accounts. This step is particularly relevant today due to the potential for online identity theft. Unfortunately, there are instances where people exploit the digital presence of someone who has passed away. By ensuring the closure of accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and email addresses, you can prevent or minimize the risk of identity theft.

Tip No. 15: Close Club Memberships.

Moving on, another piece of advice involves the closure of any memberships the decedent held in clubs. This encompasses health clubs, golf clubs, yacht clubs, and similar groups. A straightforward method to identify these affiliations is by tracing the payment of dues. Reviewing the records of where dues were paid is a simple way to pinpoint their memberships.

Furthermore, you may also want to consider canceling subscriptions like streaming services (Netflix, Disney+), meal delivery kits, magazine subscriptions, and the like. These steps ensure that ongoing financial commitments associated with memberships are also addressed.

Tip No. 16: Consider a Date of Death Appraisal.

Our sixteenth recommendation is to consider obtaining a date of death appraisal. This is especially relevant for tax-related matters. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) typically requires information on asset values at the time of an individual’s passing for tax basis purposes. In cases where the property is sold within around six months of the death, the IRS usually considers this the market value. However, it’s advisable to consult a trustworthy CPA to ensure compliance with the specific circumstances.

If there’s a plan to use the property, whether by moving in, renting it, or other intentions, knowing its value at that time can be crucial. This is especially true if you plan to retain the property for a significant period before selling. It’s recommended to take this action if you intend to hold the property for at least six months or more.

Tip No. 17: Obtain Tax Returns from the CPA.

Next, reach out to the CPA who had been assisting the deceased in order to gather the tax returns from the last two years. Additionally, collect any Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) associated with entities they might have had. Also, work with the CPA to file estate tax returns as required. It’s important to note that each state has distinct estate tax regulations and exemptions, necessitating the guidance of a knowledgeable CPA to ensure optimal tax handling for the estate.

Tip No. 18: Contact the Financial Planner.

This leads us to our eighteenth tip: get in touch with the decedent’s financial planner. Seek out someone who either had a relationship with the decedent or possesses expertise in the specific realm of transferring assets to the next generation while adhering to the trust’s stipulations and optimizing financial outcomes. Professional financial planners often bring creative insights to the table that might not be immediately apparent, ensuring the highest possible value is passed on to beneficiaries.

Tip No. 19: Consult a Real Estate Planner.

Consider reaching out to a real estate planner. These experts offer a holistic perspective on the entire process, guiding you through coordinating various professionals such as CPAs, trust and estate attorneys, financial planners, and more.

Collaborating with a real estate planner is beneficial when making decisions concerning the real estate aspects of the decedent’s affairs.

As mentioned earlier, we are real estate planners here in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. There is a large network of real estate planners throughout the country that we are very plugged into. So, if you live in our area, feel free to reach out to us. We would be more than happy to have a conversation with you. If you don’t live near us, you can still get in touch with us. We would be happy to put you in touch with a great real estate planner in your area.

Tip No. 20: Maintain Communication with Beneficiaries.

Our twentieth tip involves several components. Firstly, communicate regularly with other beneficiaries. Educate them about your role, the contents of the trust documents, your objectives, and the reasons behind your actions.

Additionally, try to address any arising issues proactively. Given the emotional nature of this period, open communication can preempt conflicts and misunderstandings, which can escalate further when finances are involved. As a trustee, your decisions wield considerable influence, making it crucial to ensure that the beneficiaries understand your actions are in their best interest.

Tip No. 21: Distribute the Assets

Finally, the culminating task is to distribute the assets according to the provisions of the will. After diligently completing the preceding tasks, it’s now your responsibility to ensure the proper distribution of assets. This involves selling any necessary items and allocating the funds as specified in the trust.

That concludes our comprehensive guide to the 21 tasks essential for trustees and trust administrators. To facilitate your use of this information, we’ll provide a clean, user-friendly PDF version, enabling you to work with the list efficiently so make sure to check it out.

If we can give you more context on the process of buying or selling your home, please do not hesitate to reach out. Our information is below. 

Here’s to all your success!

Real Estate Planner—What Is It and Why You Need One

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