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Trust Administration

Efficient Trust Settlement

Even if clients have property funded Living Trusts, efficient trust settlement requires a thoughtful process. Too little attention is paid to the human factor in settling trusts. No one is at his or her best when grieving the loss of a loved one. Yet, trustees and beneficiaries alike are challenged to make important decisions and to focus on legal details soon after death. Frustrations abound.


The biggest are unnecessary delays and feelings of being “kept in the dark” about estate proceedings or trust affairs. Prompt action, a sound plan to share information, and careful handling of sensitive issues such as disposing of personal effects can lead to a more productive settlement.

Documents and Blurred Business Men

Here are some suggestions if a family member has died:

  • Avoid fundamental mistakes:  You may have no authority to act as Agent under a Power of Attorney. When the Principal dies, the Power of Attorney expires.


  • While a trustee may have immediate authority to act as to trust assets, it is recommended that you likewise take only necessary protective actions until legal advice is obtained.


  • Persons who may be entitled to receive an asset from the deceased, without going through probate, should not accept or exercise any control over the asset until legal advice is first obtained. This includes, for example, a joint property owner, such as the joint owner of a bank account, or a beneficiary of an insurance policy, an annuity, or an IRA, 401k, or other retirement plan. Premature action may reduce planning options to handle estate and income taxes and frustrate other goals important to the estate, the recipient, or both.

  • Get immediate legal advice from a qualified and experienced attorney. Prepare for the initial conference with the attorney:


  • Locate important papers and documents, such as estate planning documents, deeds, title certificates, passbooks, insurance policies and similar items.


  • Do a detailed family tree. List family members, whether natural or adopted, both living and deceased. Provide address and phone numbers for living family members and for other named beneficiaries. Obtain social security numbers from beneficiaries.


  • List known assets and values, and provide backup documentation. Determine whether assets are properly secured and insured.


  • List known debts and obligations, and provide backup documentation.

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