Finding a Trustee For Your Estate Plan

Finding a trustee for your estate plan is tricky. If you choose someone who isn’t up to the task, you won’t be around to correct them.

On the surface, the job is simple. You name which assets go to whom and under what conditions. The trustee just has to execute. So, as with any trust designed to protect your investments, you need a trustee you can, well, trust. You may also want to see our Trustee Vs. Executor article.

In order to pick the right person, consider the following:

What Will My Estate's Trustee Do?

  1. The trustee will make the funeral arrangements with the help of the family. The hardest part about this is managing a grieving family. If your son or daughter doesn’t do well with grief, you may want to consider someone else.
  2. Your trustee will inform your family members and your heir of your estate plans. This is just like in the movies where the deceased leaves behind a video. The trustee puts in the video and the eccentric old billionaire announces that to get his money you have to do something hilarious like defeat his greatest enemy in mortal combat, or solve a terrific riddle that leads you to a treasure buried on an island off of Nova Scotia. No? Maybe that’s just my grandmother, who wasn’t a billionaire, but she was crazy.
  3. Your trustee pays people. Dying is expensive. Make these arrangements ahead of time. By the time your trustee steps in, all he should be doing is signing checks in accordance with your carefully laid plans.
  4. After the dust settles, the trustee determines what assets you still have and how to distribute them. Might be a good idea to include “well- organized” on your list of desirable trustee qualities. With that in mind, you should have selected a beast of a bean counter to execute your will. Someone meticulous, organized, and financially sound. It won’t hurt if they’re funny either. Your family might need a laugh while they divide up what remains of your life in the days and weeks after your death.

Now that you have found a trustee who can educate and entertain, you need to make a plan for your estate. Once again, you need to choose the right trustee for the job.

Here are a few things to consider.

How Big is Your Estate?

If it’s not extremely large, you can probably entrust its distribution to a family member. Unless of course merciless thieves populate your family, in which case you may need outside help. Sometimes family member receive a small honorarium for their services, but this job is largely pro bono. That’s right, you can keep taking advantage of your family even after death.

Now that’s a haunting.

When an estate is worth over 10M, you may want to name a company or a bank as the trustee. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and every family has a Mr. Burns buried somewhere, just waiting to get their hands on the cash so they can “release the hounds."

If you appoint a company or bank, this will cost…a lot. This means it’s only practical for larger estates. It’s also a lot to hoist off on your daughter, even if she is majoring in finance.

You may also want to appoint a non-family member or friend as a trustee simply so that your estate doesn’t tear the family apart. It can get ugly when one family member is dividing up wealth amongst the others. See: KING LEAR.

Does Your Trustee Have Solid Financial Skills?

This one should seem obvious, but a lot of people make posthumous financial decisions with their heart instead of their head. Whether it’s your wife, your child, or a friend, you need to make sure that your trustee is organized, responsible, and financially sound.

What Are Your Family Dynamics?

Families are made up of people and people get into disagreements. They are flawed units made up of flawed people. Every gold digger and delinquent in the world belongs to somebody’s family. If you have any in yours, keep them away from your finances when you’re gone.

Are You Compensating Your Trustee?

Generally, family members act as trustees without compensation, but you can leave them a little something for their trouble. A little bonus out of the estate might motivate them to do a better job. You’re son also tends to do a better job on the lawn when he’s receiving an allowance.

Conflict of Interest

If you are naming a child as a trustee, you are probably naming them as an heir as well. Don’t sweat this one too much. The trustee is bound to the terms of the trust, so if you are thorough, there is very little that can be done to abuse the trustee position for personal benefit.


Sometimes it’s important that several people are trustees. Once again, family members are people, and people are petty. You don’t want to bruise egos that are in the middle of grieving.

Multiple trustees are fine, but make sure that you are specific about authority and responsibility. Your death might leave a financial rat’s nest. One monkey will take long time to untangle it. If you involve multiple monkeys you might turn your funeral into a mud-slinging contest. When you're estate planning, you can be the circus ringleader who prevents these issues. 

Most people will name a child as trustee. Siblings and close friend of the family are common choices where the children are too young. Keep in mind; this is more than just the distribution of your wealth. This is the evolution of your legacy. Make sure you have chosen the right captain to steer the ship.

Take care of your family’s future. Choose a capable trustee. For much more information and a look at things from the trustee's point of view, read up on trust executor duties.

Last Updated: 
December 2, 2017

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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