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You're an executor or trustee ... Now what?

OPINION November 24, 2020 at 4:00 a.m.

Has a family member or close friend asked you to serve as their executor, trustee or power of attorney? If you accepted the responsibility, do you know what this entails? Have you been given a copy of the documents you were named under? Do you know when you would begin serving in these roles? These are all important questions to ask or consider.

Sometimes I get a call from a named executor or trustee who had no idea they were named in a family member's estate planning documents. Now that the testator or grantor has passed away or is incapacitated, the agent is needing to find out what steps they need to take in order to carry out the wishes of the testator and manage their affairs. Oftentimes it can feel like putting together pieces in a puzzle without a picture, especially when there is limited information to begin with.

Let's first discuss what each of these agents is responsible for.

An executor of an estate is a court-appointed individual (or corporate executor) who administers the estate of a deceased person.

A trustee is an individual (or corporate trustee) who holds and administers property or assets for the benefit of a beneficiary under a trust.

An agent named under a power of attorney is an individual (or corporate agent) who has the legal authority to act for the benefit of another person during disability or incapacity.

Each of these agents has different duties and responsibilities. For instance, an executor, in most cases, is tasked with filing the original last will and testament of the testator with the probate court in order to be appointed by the court as the executor.

A trustee and executor are both tasked with sending notice to the beneficiaries of their role and a copy of the documents.

An agent named under a power of attorney typically begins serving upon disability or incapacity (oftentimes referred to as a springing power of attorney).

Each of these agents is responsible for managing and preserving assets for the benefit of the beneficiary, paying bills out of the assets of the estate or trust, including burial and funeral expenses, settling the estate or trust and making distributions.

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