When a loved one dies, leaving you trust administrator, you are responsible for the trust trajectory. For many, trust administration is an unfamiliar process with many deadlines and actions that appear overwhelming.
To combat confusion, we compiled a checklist to help you manage administering a trust while navigating the California probate code.
Step One: Find the Trust
After hearing about a loved one’s death, estate planning documents are likely the last thing on your mind. However, even through this difficult emotional landscape, it’s important to take steps to find all financial and estate planning documentation. Look for the following documents:
- Current wills
- Past wills
- Pour-over wills
- Trust schedules
- Trust asset lists
- Deeds to trust property
- Income tax returns
- Gift tax returns
- Estate tax returns
- Life insurance policies
- Investment and retirement accounts
Step Two: Giving Notice
The first 60 days after the death of the decedent are critical to trust administration.
- Within the 30 days following the death, you must file the decedent’s original copy of the estate plan and their death certificate with the probate court.
- Within the 60 days following the death, you must give written notice to all heirs, beneficiaries, and other individuals outlined in the estate plan.
- File a Notice of Death of Real Property Owner with the county assessor’s office if the decedent owned property
While this beginning period contains listings of critical documentation, there are many other filing deadlines a successor trustee must keep in mind throughout early trust administration. These include:
- File a Medi-Cal Notice to the Department of Health Services within 90 days of death
- File Change of Ownership Forms within 150 of death
- File Form 706 Estate Tax Returns due within 9 months of death unless otherwise given an extension.
Step Three: Understand Your Role
After passing this critical period at the beginning of administration, you must then identify your long-term responsibilities in administering a trust. Many need to retain legal counsel to ensure they complete the trust administration process correctly and without opening themselves up to liability.
An attorney helps with many aspects of administration, including the following:
- Explaining their scope of representation
- Explaining the legal implication of trust law
- Explaining your fiduciary duty to trust beneficiaries
- Act as counsel for legal challenges such as litigation
Step Four: Manage and Distribute
To begin managing and distributing trust assets as per the estate plan, there are several pieces of information you need to collect and a trust accounting system you must develop and use. Our suggestions are to complete the following:
- Obtain taxpayer-identification numbers from the IRS
- Record a complete inventory of all trust assets and assign their value at the decedent’s date of death
- Deposit liquid trust assets into checking or savings accounts. These deposits must be FDIC insured
- Establish a penny specific record-keeping system which includes all expenses, time spent, communication notes, and meetings pertaining to settling the trust
Depending on the assets involved, you may require an investment manager. If so, meet with your attorney to develop an investment strategy. This plan is then brought to the Court for approval before implementation.
Finally, after all the investments, real property, and liquid assets and managed and accounted for, you can begin the distribution of trust assets. The terms of these distributions are outlined within the trust and should begin roughly 120 days after formally notifying the beneficiaries of the decedent’s death.
Ensure that you receive receipts from any beneficiaries who were given distributions and save those recipes as part of your overall record keeping. If a beneficiary files a claim against you or the trust later, these receipts are valuable proof of disbursement.
Experienced Trust Administration Aid
For most individuals, administering a trust on their own is a task too difficult to manage. Not only are there several deadlines to keep in mind, there is also a high risk of personal liability. To complete your administration process with as few struggles as possible, its always best to seek legal aid from the very beginning.
The Legacy Lawyers are a team of experienced estate planning lawyers dedicated to helping you with your estate planning needs. Call us at (800) 840-1998 to schedule your consultation and ensure no stone is unturned for your end of life plans.