When the Successor Trustee takes over the role of Trustee – whether due to the death or incapacity of the original Trustee – the following must be completed:

  1. Locate the trust documents and read them thoroughly.
  2. Determine what the trust’s assets are and locate them.
  3. Calculate all expenses and current and future liabilities.
  4. Change title to reflect the change in trustee.

If the change in the office of Trustee was due to incapacity, then the ongoing duties of the Successor Trustee are to manage the estate for the incapacitated person including paying all bills and monitoring all of the trust’s assets.

However, if the change in Trustee has been the result of a death, then the following steps must also be completed during the first few weeks following the death.

1.  Secure the trust’s assets and valuable personal belongings from the residence and place of business. Consider changing locks if any of the trust’s properties are not being occupied by a spouse or trusted beneficiary.

2. Find all utility bills and make sure they paid each month.  Do not have the utilities shut off immediately.

3. Go online to the US Post Office to forward mail from all properties.

4. Cancel all credit cards, subscriptions (newspapers, magazines, etc.), internet, cable, television.

5. Continue payment for all property and casualty insurance coverage (i.e. continue paying home owners insurance, car insurance and insurance for any personal effects or goods in storage). When talking with the companies and agencies NEVER say that a property is VACANT.  It is simply CURRENTLY UNOCCUPIED, if in fact there is no one living there.

6. Check fire insurance (will the insurance cover an incident if dwelling is vacant/unoccupied?)

7.  If you have personal access to a safety deposit box with the decedent, do not remove the contents. The contents of the safety deposit box should be inventoried in the presence of a bank officer and only then can the contents be removed.

8.  Gather all personal records, including checkbooks and tax returns for the last three years.

9. Contact individuals who owe the decedent money and arrange for continued collection.

10.  Gather all information and contact all life insurance policies, accident insurance policies, alumni associations, trade associations and any other organization that might make life insurance policies available to its members.

11. Determine immediate cash needs for any beneficiary, never give a beneficiary money without first getting advice from an attorney; identify accounts where cash is immediately available; determine if any immediate expense must be paid (Hint: there are not many).

12.  Contact Social Security and VA, if applicable.

13. Hold any Social Security received after the date of death.  Don’t close a bank account into which automatic deposits may be paid..

This list is not comprehensive nor is it necessarily “in order”.  Further, while this information may be helpful in understanding your role, it does not substitute for legal advice.  In addition to these steps, there are legal documents, notices and requirements that must be filed following the death of a trustee even though they have a trust.  A meeting with the lawyer does not need to happen immediately upon the death – but ideally within 2 to 4 weeks of the passing.  I meet with families every day in our Brentwood and Walnut Creek offices.  I offer free 30 minute consultations for all new clients.