Since a trust does not go through probate, the process for settling an estate is a little different what you’d expect when there’s a Will. If you’re the Successor Trustee, and especially if you’re the spouse, this can be a little intimidating, and certainly emotional.
The first step is to call your estate planning attorney. He or she has done this before and will be able to guide you every step of the way. You should set up an appointment with your attorney for approximately three weeks after the trust maker’s death.
In preparation for the appointment, you’ll want to gather the following documents:
- The Trust documents
- All Deeds
- All bank statements
- All titles
- All brokerage statements
- All life insurance policies
- Tax returns for the last three years
When you meet with your attorney, he or she will explain the requirements of your job as the Successor Trustee and will let you know the terms of the trust you’ll need to follow. In general, here are the steps to administering a trust:
- Take an Inventory of Trust Assets. This involves listing the ownership of each asset, as well as its value as of the date of death. You may need to hire professionals to appraise certain assets; your attorney can help you determine this.
- Determine Estate Tax. During the year 2010, the estate tax has been repealed. In future years, your attorney can help you determine whether or not the estate will be subject to estate or inheritance taxes.
- Divide the Trust Assets. If there is a surviving spouse, then it may be necessary to divide the trust assets between a Family Trust and a Marital Trust. Property placed in the Family Trust will no longer be considered part of the surviving spouse’s estate upon death. Your estate planning attorney will guide you through this process.
- File Tax Forms. You’ll be responsible for filing income tax returns, trust tax returns, and possible estate tax returns. Again, your attorney will be able to assist you with this process.
- Distribute Trust Assets to Beneficiaries. After all the bills of the estate are settled, you’ll follow the terms of the trust in distributing the assets to the beneficiaries.