4 mistakes to avoid as the trustee of an estate

May 13, 2020

Serving as trustee for the estate of someone who has passed away is a major responsibility. Missteps and errors by a trustee can result in conflicts, delays and financial damages, all of which can disrupt familial relationships and result in long-term consequences.

As such, if you are a trustee, you should avoid common mistakes like those we discuss below.

Trustee mistake #1: Not understanding your duties

Whether you knew you would serve as the trustee ahead of time or not, the responsibilities can be overwhelming when the time comes to carry them out.

In general, though, you should be prepared to:

  • Plan the funeral
  • Locate the decedent’s will
  • Secure a probate Certificate, if necessary
  • Pay creditors
  • Pay taxes
  • Manage distribution of assets

You may want to talk to a lawyer about your obligations and how to navigate the administration and probate process to avoid costly missteps.

Trustee mistake #2: Failing to stay organized

Often, there is a lot of paperwork and deadlines of which a trustee must keep track. If you are disorganized, you can easily misplace critical information and cause delays.

Further, you could create more work for yourself if you must resubmit legal documentation or spend time trying to account for your decisions.

Trustee mistake #3: Mishandling money

Financial decisions are among the most pivotal choices you make as a trustee, as they can have a direct impact on beneficiaries.

Mishandling money can result in challenges to your performance and, possibly, efforts to remove you. Not only could you be dealing with angry family members, but you could also experience financial penalties for oversights like failing to file taxes on time or negligence.

Trustee mistake #4: Failing to act in the best interests of the decedent

If you do not comply with the directions of the decedent, you could face severe penalties for breach of trust.

Breach of trust claims can stem from actions including:

  • Failing to sell or distribute property per the decedent’s wishes
  • Making reckless or irresponsible investments
  • Mistreating beneficiaries
  • Putting personal profits and interests ahead of the decedent’s best interests

If you do not uphold your duty as a trustee in these or any other ways, you could wind up facing legal, financial and personal ramifications. Therefore, you should make every effort to avoid these missteps.