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You've Been Appointed Trustee of a Trust - Here are Eight Do's and Don'ts to Get You Started

It can be an honor and a burden to be appointed trustee of a trust. What responsibilities have been thrust upon you? How do you successfully carry them out?

Here are eight do's and two don'ts to get you started:

Do read the trust document. It sets the rules under which you will operate, the standards in which you make distributions to a beneficiary of the trust, and how you will administer the trust assets. You need to understand it completely.

Do create a checking account for the trust. All income and expenses must go through this account. While you should invest the money, a checking account will enable you to make distributions and payments and keep track of them.

Do keep the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind at all times. You have a "fiduciary" duty to current and future beneficiaries of the trust. A fiduciary duty is an extremely high standard. If you fail to follow your fiduciary duty, you may be personally liable for any loss to a beneficiary.

Do provide the beneficiaries and anyone else named in the trust with an annual account of trust activity. This can be a copy of the checking and investment account statements or a more formal trust account prepared by an accountant or attorney.

Do invest the trust funds prudently and productively to create income for the beneficiaries. You cannot leave the trust funds in a savings account or invest in a risky venture. You need to diversify the trust portfolio among stocks and fixed income securities. Get professional investment advice.

Do keep in regular contact with the beneficiaries to understand their needs. Develop a distribution plan and a means to verify a beneficiary's request for a distribution. A trustee can be liable for not making a distribution or making too much a distribution to a beneficiary.

Do be aware of any public benefits the beneficiaries may be receiving and make sure you do not jeopardize the beneficiaries' eligibility.
Do file annual income tax returns for the trust.

Don't have any personal financial dealings with the trust. For instance, you cannot borrow money from the trust or lend the trust money to anyone.

Don't manage the trust alone. You need professional advice. All trust documents have some degree of complexity. You need to understand trust law, fiduciary standards and tax laws to properly administer a trust. No one can do that without many years of training and legal education. Hire an experienced attorney to make sure you are correctly fulfilling your role.

Protecting Assets from Long Term Care Costs
Brad is quoted in MarketWatch

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