Skip to content

Picking the Perfect Protector: A Guide to Trustee Selection

By: Atty. Sam Collins

Key takeaways:

  1. Choose Competent Trustees, Not Just Family: You should choose your trustees based on their capability to handle the responsibilities, not just family ties. Naming all children as your trustees might not always be a good idea. A professional trustee is appropriate if the estate plan is complex or the family has conflicts.
  2. Consider Practicalities: There are practical issues to consider. Out-of-state trustees or those with messy personal finances themselves are not ideal choices. The ideal trustee should be geographically accessible, responsible, and comfortable working with professionals.
  3. Evaluate for Stress Management and Cooperation: It is important that you choose a trustee who can handle stress and work collaboratively. Someone uncomfortable with pressure or unwilling to follow professional guidance might create problems during the settlement process.

                A trustee’s role can be complicated.  There are people to account to and interests to protect, to which trustees owe the highest duty of care and loyalty recognized under law.  Add to that the normal family dynamics that are present in most of ours, and you have additional complexities layered on top—just because we are all human. 

            A person’s choice of trustees may change as a result of outside forces.  People once chosen may move away, or become injured, or pass away.  Relationships may change.  Life experiences may change.  Sometimes we may find out that the people we’ve chosen to be helpers might not be particularly suited to that task, or we might discover that those we haven’t considered to be helpers are uniquely suited for it.  As you do planning, or revise a current plan, consider a few considerations that may help:

  1. Too many trustees is not necessarily a good thing.  While it’s okay to have more than one trustee—and maybe even a good thing—having three or four trustees might just be overkill.  All your children do not need to be named trustee.  Select one or two most capable of handling the job.  
  2. Is the plan too complex for a family member to handle?  If so, that makes the case for a professional trustee, such as a trust department at a bank.  You should also look to a professional if the family does not get along, or your overall plan would benefit from an objective third party.
  3. Children living out of state are not ideal choices for successor trustees.  There is a lot of paperwork that the trustees need to complete, and it is helpful if they are more locally accessible to meet the demands of the job. 
  4. Choosing a child to be trustee simply to “have them involved and maybe learn something” when they don’t even have their own affairs in order is a bad idea.  Trusteeship is not the time to be teaching life lessons in responsibility!  Your trustee should be capable of handling books and keeping records in a responsible fashion from day one.
  5. A trustee’s job can be stressful at times.  People handle stress in different ways.  Think about how the people you have selected handle stress and pressure.  If any of your current choices are uncomfortable in these situations, then consider making a change. 
  6. Is your selection a lone wolf do-it-yourselfer, or do they follow directions and work well with other professionals?  If they are the former, this could create problems or conflict during the settlement process.  Someone who cooperates and follows the advice of professionals, like attorneys and CPA’s, is vital to the success of your estate plan.  Likewise, if your trustees aren’t comfortable meeting with these individuals, this person should be changed. 
  7. Are they interested in serving as trustee?  Will they be likely to be actively engaged in and committed to the process?  If you are seeing complete and total disinterest on this person’s part, this is a red flag that this might not be the best selection.    

Once you do select the right people for the job, it is important to amend your plan periodically as your situation changes.   

THE CHECKBOOK TEST:

“Who have you chosen as your executor or trustee? Now, what if I told you to give them your checkbook right now, and let them pay your bills for a couple months? Does that make you nervous? If so, you may want to reconsider who you have chose.”

– David Edwards, Edwards Group LLC

To reserve your place at our introductory workshop, the Truth About Estate Planning™ experience, click here.

Check out these posts from The Legacy Pulse

  • Illinois Estate Tax Exemption Changes

    Key takeaways: Over 300 new laws went into effect in Illinois in 2024. None of them changed the estate tax exemption. Illinois is one of only a handful of estates that impose a “death tax” (estate or inheritance tax) on those who die residing or owning property in Illinois. Illinois exempts the first four million… Read…

  • Help With Your Health: A Guide to Health Care Powers of Attorney

    Key Takeaways Why Do You Need a Health Care POA? Health Care Powers of Attorney (HCPOA) are designed for situations in which you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself due to disability, illness or injury. Under a HCPOA, the principal (the person executing the power of attorney) appoints an agent to make health… Read…

  • Picking the Perfect Protector: A Guide to Trustee Selection

    By: Atty. Sam Collins Key takeaways:                 A trustee’s role can be complicated.  There are people to account to and interests to protect, to which trustees owe the highest duty of care and loyalty recognized under law.  Add to that the normal family dynamics that are present in most of ours, and you have additional… Read…

  • Biden’s 2025 Budget Proposals

    By: Atty. Curt Ferguson Each year the sitting president releases what is generally known as the “Green Book” announcing his budget proposals for the next tax year. For our estate planning clients, here are some income tax, capital gain and estate tax items to consider when you vote. Currently the top marginal individual income tax… Read…

  • Funding Continued: Not-So-Easily Funded Assets

    By: Atty. Marcus Collins Here are three key takeaways from this article: Revocable living trusts are popular estate planning tools designed to avoid probate, control the loss of control during a disability of the trust settlor, take advantage of tax opportunities (including Illinois estate taxes), and streamline the inheritance process. As we discussed in the… Read…

  • Helping Your Family: The Necessity of Trust Funding

    By: Atty. Marcus Collins Key Takeaways: Don’t Leave Your Living Trust Empty: Why Funding Matters Living trusts are a cornerstone of many estate plans, and that is certainly true in our practice. The revocable living trust is the workhorse of almost all of our clients’ estate plans. They offer a path to avoid probate, a… Read…