Updated: Aug 28
While the term fiduciary is a legal term with a rich history, it very generally means someone who is legally obligated to act in another person’s best interests. Trustees, executors, and agents are all examples of fiduciaries. When you pick trustees, executors, and agents in your estate plan, you’re picking one or more people to make decisions in your and your beneficiaries’ best interests and in accordance with the instructions you leave. Trustee A revocable living trust is generally at the center of a well-designed estate plan because it is simply the best strategy for achieving most individuals’ goals. In most revocable living trusts, you will serve as the initial trustee and will continue to manage the trust assets as you had in the past. Your successor trustee will be responsible for making sure your wealth is managed in accordance with your wishes after your death and should you ever become incapacitated. It’s important to make the language in your trust as clear as possible so that your trustee knows exactly how to handle various situations that can arise is asset distribution. Lastly, your trustee will only control the assets contained within the trust — not the rest of your estate, the reason why completely funding your living trust is crucial. Executor Your executor is the person who will see your assets through probate upon your death, if necessary, and carry out your wishes based on your last will and testament. If you have a revocable living trust at the center of your estate plan, your last will and testament likely “pours” these assets over to your trust upon completion of the probate process. An Executor will only be appointed and a probate commenced if you own assets in your individual name at the time of your death instead of in your revocable living trust.
Agent Your power of attorney is the document in your estate plan that appoints individuals to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. A person who acts under the authority given in a power of attorney is generally called an agent. Your agent will only control the assets owned in your individual name during your incapacity, not those owned by your revocable living trust.
Who Should You Nominate It’s best to nominate a trusted person, a private professional (such as a member of the Professional Fiduciary Association of California), or a financial institution to carry out these vitally important roles. Because your trustee, executor, and agent are all tasked with managing your assets when you cannot, you should consider nominating the same person, private professional, or financial institution in these roles. And, you should nominate at least one successor, to ensure against any potential future vacancy in these roles.
A private professional or financial institution will charge a fee for these services (usually a percentage of the estate or an hourly fee based on the number of hours worked). However, if a neutral fiduciary is desirable or your estate is large or complex, this might be a good choice. Choosing a spouse, child, or good friend can be convenient because they may already be familiar with your assets and have an easier time making sure your wishes are carried out. However, it’s important to consider the amount of work involved and whether they may be up to the task at that time. Get in touch with us today Let us help you make the process of picking your trustees, executors, and agents as smooth and headache-free as possible. Once you have these choices in place, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your estate plan is in good hands no matter what life brings.