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Are You Wondering 'How Should I Choose a Trustee?'

Are you at that point in your estate planning where you've met with your lawyer, thought about an estate plan, sorted through all the tax issues that your estate might face, made sure that your loved ones will be provided for, and left clear instructions related to funeral? If so, you are in that position where you are ready to start thinking about whether you should also construct a trust.

If you are considering a trust, then this question will lead you to wonder "How should I choose a trustee?"

Then, the next issue, before you consider who you should give this authority to, is the answer to the question: what does a trustee do?

In short, a trustee's duties require expertise in collecting estate assets, paying taxes, asset protection, investing money, paying bills, filing accountings (quarterly or annual) and managing money for beneficiaries. There's also a human side to the relationship. The trustee consults with your beneficiaries about the size of the checks issued periodically, what expenses will be paid, what withdrawals against principal will be permitted.

Knowing what duties a trustee must execute will be important in determining whether or not you should make a family member your trustee.

Generally speaking, choosing a family member as trustee makes sense if your trust is small to mid-size and you believe that family conflicts are not likely to arise. However, as anyone with a family can recognize, the notion that a family member can dispose of your assets without conflict may be a bit unrealistic.

Luckily, there exist professional entities -- banks, trust companies, lawyers -- who are willing to step in and serve as trustee. Not only can they act without family prejudices, they also have the benefit of being quasi-immortal (in the sense that even if the first company goes bust the trust goes into the hands of a new successor company, they don't die like people do). Of course, the issue with using institutional trustees is that they don't have personal knowledge of the kind of worldview you and your family have, and they may also be more conservative in doling out the assets, which is not always a good thing.

Given the gravity of the decision of how should you choose a trustee, the best thing you can do right now is to speak with a qualified attorney and present the facts of your family and your estate to him or her.

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