As a trust attorney, I help many seniors set up Revocable Living Trusts to avoid probate proceedings and to give clear instructions on how they want their assets and property handled after death. The Grantor creates a trust once it is signed and funded with assets or property; that means anything used to fund the trust is technically property of the Revocable Living Trust. The Grantor no longer owns the trust assets and property, though they do retain control over it if they are the Trustee of the trust.

This is the beauty of a Revocable Living Trust: it can survive the incapacitation and even death of the Grantor and Trustee because the trust owns the property and allows for various people to control it as Trustees. When the Grantor/Trustee passes away or becomes incapacitated, a Successor Trustee (who is already named in the trust to serve in that capacity) gains control over the Trust assets, though must still abide by the terms and conditions of the trust. But before you choose a Successor Trustee for your trust, you should ask yourself the following questions:

Who will want to handle my trust?

Typically, Successor Trustees are either the spouse or adult child of the Grantor/Trustee, but just because they’re family doesn’t mean that they want to handle the trust. A spouse may not be able to handle the work needed to be a Successor Trustee, and adult children may want to avoid conflicts with siblings or other family members or may even have a complicated personal situation and simply cannot take over the extra responsibility. Speak with your potential Successor Trustees to find out if they think they’ll be able to handle the job, and make sure to provide additional instructions in your trust on who should become Successor Trustee if the person named cannot or will not accept the position.

Should I name co-Trustees?

There are pros and cons to having co-Trustees. On one hand, it may be a good solution to ensure everyone feels they are being treated equally. On the other hand, it can lead to family conflicts and difficulties in administering the trust. In many cases, co-Trustees are named to serve as Successor Trustees, but one will usually relinquish power to the other in order to make things go smoothly. If you are considering naming co-Trustees, you should speak with an experienced trust attorney to find out all of the potential pitfalls.

Will the Successor Trustee be strong enough to serve?

One thing that is often overlooked is the fact that a Successor Trustee will have to operate during difficult moments, such as when the Grantor becomes medically incapacitated or after the Grantor passes away. This is why many people ultimately settle on a professional trustee or trust attorney to serve as Successor Trustee. This avoids any emotional issues and family conflicts while allowing decisions to be made objectively. One potential drawback to having a professional Trustee or attorney serve as Successor Trustee is that they charge a fee for their services, which is usually a percentage of the total trust assets.

If you’d like more information about Revocable Living Trusts and Successor Trustees, or if you’d like to review your existing Revocable Living Trust with an experienced trust attorney, please contact us at 941-909-4644 or 763-420-5087 to set up a consultation.


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Chuck Roulet
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Nationally Recognized Estate Planning Attorney, Author, and Speaker
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