What Do I Do When the Grantor Dies?

If you were appointed as Trustee of the Trust, your duties will basically be the same as an executor named in a Will would have. The major difference there is that the probate court will not be involved. This means you can act on your schedule and save on the costs of probate filing.

The trustee is responsible for distributing the Trust estate in a timely manner. You may be able to do much of this yourself, but an experienced estate planning attorney, can give you valuable guidance and assistance. Here’s an overview of what needs to be done:

  1. Inform the family of your position and offer to assist with the funeral. Read the trust document and look for specific instructions. Notify a co-trustee, if any, as soon as possible.
  2. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to go over the trust document, trust assets and your responsibilities as soon as possible. Do not sell or distribute any assets before you meet with the estate planning attorney.
  3. Make a list of the assets of the decedent and their estimated values. You will need exact values later, but this will help the estate planning attorney know if an estate tax return will need to be filed. Note: Final estate tax return is due no later thannine months after the grantor’s death. If there is a surviving spouse or if the trust has a tax planning provision, the attorney may need to do some tax planning right away. The trust may also need its own tax identification number.
  4. Collect all death benefits (social security, life insurance, retirement plans, associations) and put them in an interest bearing account until assets are distributed. If the surviving spouse or other beneficiary needs money to live on, you can probably make some partial distributions. Do not make any distributions until after you have a meeting with an estate planning attorney.
  5. Notify the bank, brokerage firm and others of the Grantor’s death and that you are now Trustee. They will probably want to see a Death Certificate (order at least 12), a certificate of trust, and your personal identification.
  6. To finalize the list of assets, you will need exact values as of the date of the Grantor’s death. Some assets will need to be appraised. An estate sale may need to be held to dispose of household goods and personal effects.
  7. Keep all records of final medical and funeral expenses, and file medical claims promptly. Keep all bills and income received by the decedent. Contact an accountant and an estate planning attorney to prepare final income and estate tax returns, if required. Verify and pay all bills and taxes. Make a final accounting of assets and bills paid, and give it to the beneficiaries.

If the assets are to stay in a trust (for minors, for a surviving spouse, for tax purposes or if the beneficiaries will receive their inheritances in installments), each trust will need a new tax identification number, and proper bookkeeping and reporting procedures will need to be established.

If the assets are to be fully distributed, you will divide the cash and transfer titles according to the instructions in the trust. That’s it…you’re finished and the trust is dissolved.

Should I be paid for all this work?
Yes, trustees are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services. The trust document should give guidelines.

What if the responsibilities are too much for me?
Consider hiring an estate planning attorney to help you. If you feel you cannot handle any of the responsibilities due to work, family demands or any other reason, you can resign and let the next successor trustee step in. If no other successor trustee has been named, or none is willing or able to serve, a corporate trustee can usually be named.

In a nutshell:
What A Trustee Does At Death

  • Contacts attorney to review trust and process
  • Keeps beneficiaries informed
  • Puts together team of advisors
  • Inventories assets, determines current values
  • Makes partial distributions if needed
  • Collects benefits, keeps records, files tax returns
  • Pays bills, does final accounting
  • Distributes assets to beneficiaries as trust directs

Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney in order to make sure all your digital assets are included in your estate plan. Contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn for your estate planning needs for more information. Call us at (718) 333-2394.