A Corporate Trustee Has Drawbacks But Can Give You Piece Of Mind
Does the idea of putting control over trust assets in the hands of a virtual stranger give you the shivers? Or maybe you've heard that corporate trustees are pricey, take longer to make decisions, and-due to personnel changes-may mean your beneficiaries will have to deal with a series of point people rather than one individual.
All are potential drawbacks. But before you opt for a friend or family member as trustee, consider the pros of choosing a corporate trustee.
- Staying power. The role of trustee can be demanding, and may span a long period. An individual could find that responsibility overwhelming, and if that person dies or becomes mentally incapacitated, it could create problems for the trust and its beneficiaries. A corporate trustee, however, can administer the trust for as long as it endures.
- Objectivity. Friends and family members are likely to have emotional connections to beneficiaries, could cave in to unreasonable requests, and may not be able to balance the needs of current and future beneficiaries. A corporate trustee will follow the grantor's wishes to the letter.
- Expertise and commitment. The role of a trustee is complicated and time consuming. Trustees must not only collect, value, and safeguard assets, but also invest and distribute them, as well as keep accurate records and follow com-plex accounting, legal, and tax regulations. And flubbing a filing or omitting a tax payment can have serious ramifications, and could leave the trustee liable to charges of fiduciary malpractice.
- Conflict resolution. An independent corporate trustee can serve as a buffer when conflicts arise and may be better equipped to resolve disagreements or make unbiased decisions.
Of course, it's essential to choose corporate trustees with care. Plan to talk to several candidates. Consider factors such as how long the trust department has been in business, the number and the average size of the trusts it manages, and the experience level of its employees. Because you're looking for someone you'll be comfortable talking to about your personal relationships, you'll probably want to meet with your top choices in person.
Delve into the financials by comparing investment returns, fees-including when the last increase took place and how much of a bump it was-and services. Ask for samples of trust statements or reports to see whether they're written in language a lay-person could understand. Find out what restrictions, if any, limit the corporate trustee's investment options; some conservative firms provide only internal investment options, which significantly reduces a trust's investment opportunities.
When you've settled on a corporate trustee, consider when to introduce the trust officer to your family. Often, trustees are designated to take charge after the grantor's death-a time of great stress and instability for the family. A better bet may be to bring in a corporate trustee now and hold regular family meetings, giving the trustee and beneficiaries the chance to build a working relationship. And designate one or more persons to have the power to remove and appoint a corporate trustee if it becomes necessary.