A living trust can be a powerful part of your estate plan. Making sure you select the right people to serve as your successor trustees is a vital part of giving you an optimized estate plan. Whether you name people to act individually or as a group is something you should decide based upon the relative strengths of each person and the ability of the group to work together.
President Theodore Roosevelt once said that, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort.” This is true of estate planning. Anything worth doing, and an estate plan is definitely worth doing, is worth expending the effort to do right. That will mean taking the time to weigh your options carefully and make several very important decisions.
Once you've decided to get a plan, you'll have to decide what type of plan meets your need. If you have decided to avail yourself to the benefits of avoiding probate, then you will have to make several more decisions about your living trust. One of the most important decisions you'll need to make about your living trust is who will serve as your successor trustees.
First off, you'll need to decide how many people you want to serve as your successor trustees. It is generally a good idea to make sure that your trust has more than one successor trustee named in it. With too few successor trustees named, you run the risk that, at the time that you need a successor trustee to step in and begin managing your trust assets, everyone you've named will be dead or otherwise unable to serve. It is generally a good idea to make sure that have at least one successor trustee and one alternate successor trustee.
Next, you will have to decide who is best suited to perform this task. Being a successor trustee is not just an honorary designation, it is a real position with real responsibilities. It will be important for you to make sure that you name someone who has the time, the knowledge and/or experiences, and the willingness to carry out the tasks of a trustee faithfully. It is important not to name someone simply because they are a close relative (like a child).
Another thing you'll need to consider is whether or not to have multiple people serve as co-trustees. Having multiple co-trustees serving together has both its positive and negative sides. On the positive side, having more than one person reduces the possibility of misconduct. A sole successor trustee has more unfettered access and control, and therefore more ability to commit misconduct. On the other hand, having multiple co-trustees can increase the possibility of disagreement and, potentially, gridlock. If you, for example, name your four children as your co-trustees and a majority of the four cannot agree, then action cannot be taken.
What should you take away from all this? You know the people in your life best. You know whether your children can work together effectively and cooperatively. You know whether you have someone in your life whom you can trust to manage the assets of your trust after you cannot. With your input, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you make sure that you have the lineup of successor trustees you need to make sure than your plan continues to function smoothly even after you cannot manage it yourself.