Trust administration is the process by which a trustee carries out the terms and conditions of a trust after the settlor’s death or the person who created the trust. This administration type generally occurs outside the probate court system and is much different from probate administration. Although avoiding probate is a major goal of creating a trust, understanding trust administration is also critical to determining whether a trust is the right choice for you and your family. A trust administration lawyer at Kramer, Green, Zuckerman, Greene & Buchsbaum, P.A. can evaluate your situation, present the full range of options available to you, and help you make the best choices for you and your family.
Trust Administration in General
In many cases, a person who creates a living trust or a trust during his lifetime is both the settlor and the initial trustee. As the settlor, the person can transfer ownership of assets to the trust, and, if the trust remains revocable during his or her lifetime, remove ownership of assets from the trust. As the trustee, the person decides to distribute income from the trust to named beneficiaries.
Once the settlor and original trustee pass away, the person the settlor named as successor trustee must act. The typical first steps that a successor trustee must take include depositing the original will with the probate court within ten days of the decedent’s death, ordering multiple copies of certified death certificates, and reviewing the living trust document. Next, the successor trustee must obtain a taxpayer identification number or TIN from the IRS, as the settlor likely previously used his or her social security number for the trust.
The successor trustee must also file a Notice of Trust with the court in the county where the settlor lived. If a probate case exists, the successor trustee files the Notice of Trust within the probate case; if no case exists, the Clerk of Court will file the Notice. The successor trustee then will proceed with his or her duties under the Florida Trust Code and the trust document’s terms.
The Role of the Trustee in Trust Administration
A trustee acts as a fiduciary to the chosen beneficiaries of your trust. The fiduciary relationship is one of the highest standards of care recognized under Florida law, akin to a doctor-patient or attorney-client relationship. As a result, a trustee must always act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and handle the trust assets reasonably and prudently.
Florida law outlines various duties for trustees in administering trusts. For example, under Florida Statutes § 736.0801, a trustee must “administer the trust in good faith, in accordance with its terms and purposes and the interests of the beneficiaries” and the Florida Trust Code. Furthermore, trustees have the following duties:
- Loyalty – acting in the beneficiaries’ interests and avoiding self-dealing;
- Impartiality – equally considering the interests of all beneficiaries;
- Prudent administration – exercising reasonable care, skill, and caution by considering the purpose, terms, requirements, and other circumstances of the trust;
- Inform and account – informing beneficiaries about the trust and their right to accountings, as well as providing trust documents and accountings;
- Collect, control, and protect trust property – maintaining records of trust property after identification, keeping it separate from non-trust property, and ensuring that it retains its value and/or increases in value, as is reasonable;
- Identify and satisfy debts and tax obligations – using trust assets to satisfy the decedent’s debts and pay tax obligations;
- Enforce and defend claims – reasonably enforcing claims on behalf of the trust and defending claims against the trust; and
- Distribute trust income and assets – following trust terms and conditions to distribute trust income and assets to beneficiaries.
Contact Our Office Today for Your Trust Administration and Estate Planning Needs
At Kramer, Green, Zuckerman, Greene & Buchsbaum, P.A., an estate planning attorney can provide a full range of estate planning services, including trust creation and administration. In addition, if you lose a loved one, we are here to assist you with all estate, probate, or trust administration needs.
We can guide your family through the complicated legal landscape of estate planning law as quickly and efficiently as possible. Call us at (954) 966-2112 or learn more about the legal services we can offer you online. Please schedule an appointment to talk to us about your legal needs immediately.