Every estate plan has legal requirements and formalities for distributing property to heirs. If the plan is based on a Last Will and Testament, the executor is responsible for paying the estate’s debts and passing on assets to beneficiaries. However, if the estate plan includes a trust, the successor trustee immediately assumes control of all trust assets upon the death or incapacity of the trustmaker and will have to carry out the terms of the trust document—a process known as trust administration.
First Steps When Administering a Trust in Florida
If you have been named as a successor trustee, you will be expected to meet court deadlines, fulfill legal duties, and assume financial responsibility for the handling of the estate. Trust administration can be an intense and complicated business, so you should be fully aware of your rights and obligations in order to avoid costly mistakes.
If you have recently become the new trustee after a death or incapacity, it is your responsibility to:
- Order death certificates. You will need at least three or four certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate in order to obtain assets from bank accounts, life insurance policies, and other necessary transfers. The funeral home may provide certified short-form death certificates (which do not include the cause of death) for a fee.
- Deposit the Will with the appropriate probate court. Trust-based estate plans often include a Last Will and Testament outlining the decedent’s wishes. Under Florida law, the original Last Will and Testament must be deposited with the probate court in the decedent’s county of residence within ten (10) days of death.
- File a Notice of Trust. All successor trustees must file a Notice of Trust to notify the public and any potential creditors of the trust’s existence. Florida law requires the Notice of Trust to be filed with the court in the decedent’s county of residence and contain certain information, including the decedent’s name, date of death, the legal title of the trust, the date of trust execution, and the successor trustee’s address. It may also include a provision that the trust will pay any expenses of estate administration or debts if the decedent’s probate estate is not enough to cover these costs.
Fulfilling Your Duties as the Successor Trustee
Trust administration and estate administration have some similarities, including liability for damages that result from incorrect handling of trust assets. With so much at stake, you should always consult a Florida estate planning attorney for personalized legal guidance during trust administration.
In order to meet your obligations as trustee, it is important that you:
- Review the trust agreement. You must have a firm grasp of the decedent’s intentions to fulfill your responsibility to their heirs. The written trust agreement will contain instructions telling you what to do with trust assets, the shares apportioned to each beneficiary, and when and how funds should be distributed to beneficiaries or charities.
- Know what the trust owns. Trust administration requires handling all assets titled in the name of the living trust. If there is no list of assets included in the trust document, you may need access to the decedent’s financial records or email accounts. If an asset is jointly held with a surviving spouse, these will transfer automatically to the new owner. If you discover any assets owned in the decedent’s own name, these will have to go through probate.
- Keep an inventory of trust assets. Trustees must do a full accounting of the assets in the trust, including a list of assets titled in the name of the trust and the market value of each asset at the time of death. Since the value of assets can greatly affect tax liability, you should work closely with an attorney to help you with trust accounting.
- Perform diligent accounting. A trustee must keep careful records showing any income and expenses, as well as how trust assets are being managed.
- Inform beneficiaries of trust activities. You are required to keep heirs informed of the progress of trust administration and answer any requests from beneficiaries with timely and relevant information about trust assets.
At Yolofsky Law, our legal team helps you make informed and empowered decisions to protect yourself and the people you love. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you through any probate and trust administration proceedings, ensuring your duties are met to the letter of the law. Give us a call today to find out how we can help.