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Finding the right trustee

Trusts can be an important part of estate planning that help benefactors take care of their heirs. However, the good intentions of a grantor sometimes turn disastrous when the wrong person serves as a trustee.

Trustees must manage assets in a trust, so the right person must have investment and tax knowledge. Other expertise might be needed depending on what is in a trust. For example, someone with business or real estate experience could be needed if a business or property is included in a trust. Multiple trustees could also be appointed, which might include one primary trustee with general know how and specialized trustees that handle specific parts of a trust that require their insight.

Financial advisers like accountants, financial planners and attorneys could be well suited to act as trustees. Settlors should try to find an adviser who takes this role seriously. Fiduciaries have moral and legal obligations to put client interests first. For example, a fiduciary must invest client money in a way that suits the client best instead of investing in a way that yields a commission for the trustee.

While technical and financial skills matter when selecting a trustee, interpersonal skills should not be overlooked. As families face emotional turmoil when a loved one passes, a trustee must be able to act with empathy and sensitivity to avoid placing undue stress on family members in an already difficult time.

Estate planning documents help to leave a legacy behind for family members but also lets people plan for situations when they might be unable to communicate their wishes. Trusts, wills and powers of attorney are a few of the tools that are available, and an attorney can often make recommendations based upon a client's particular goals.

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