By now, showing interest in something by ‘swiping right’ has moved into the general lexicon. But for those of you who may have been under a rock and/or sheltering in place until the next election, many on-line dating applications (or ‘apps’ for the young whipper-snappers out there reading this) ask you to show interest in a potential mate by swiping right on their picture. If that person also independently swipes right on you, it’s a match and you can begin talking to and simultaneously eliminating this person as a potential long-term mate (or short-term distraction – no judgment).
Much like with on-line dating, choosing a successor trustee for your trust is very much a hit and miss decision and one that you may not find out is the wrong one until it’s too late – again much like on-line dating. However, if you know the ABCs of a good successor trustee candidate, your beneficiaries are much more likely to avoid squabbles, confusion, and unnecessary delays. The ABCs are common sense qualities that will serve your legacy, your beneficiaries, and your trust well.
A is for Availability. Your successor trustee should be able, willing, and local enough to be able to perform all the duties that accompany the fiduciary role of successor trustee. Your successor trustee doesn’t have to live the same town or even state as you do. But much like long distance relationships, this arrangement can work but it’s just more difficult and expensive. So try and pick someone local, but don’t worry if all the good candidates are further away. You can still make it work!
B is for Background. This doesn’t mean that your successor trustee has to be from the same background as you! What a successor trustee with the right background does possess is: maturity, responsibility, and an appreciation and understanding of your wishes in order to execute your estate plan. After all, your estate is now in the hands of your successor trustee. This person has to have the maturity to withstand competing interests, insistent beneficiaries, and a whole bunch of paperwork. Additionally, if your estate is full of complex financial investments and multiple houses in different states, perhaps Cousin Joe who thinks secure banking consists of stashing his money under his mattress is not the best choice. Sorry, Cousin Joe, but it’s a left swipe for you.
C is for Confidence (and Cookie, for all the readers out there who grew up on Sesame Street). You should pick a successor trustee in whom you have the utmost confidence, and someone whom you feel is honest and loyal. It may happen that your successor trustee doesn’t agree with all the decisions you made in your estate plan.
However, this person is still bound by your wishes and should have a strong enough sense of honesty and loyalty to carry out your wishes. In fact, the law requires it.
It may seem that the perfect successor trustee – much like the perfect on-line date – is nearly impossible to find. It’s not as difficult as you think. Trust your instincts. Don’t be swayed by emotional decisions and discuss your choices and any concerns with your estate planning attorney. With the right guidance and by evaluating your options by the ABCs, you can find the right successor trustee. Alas, we can’t promise the same with on-line dating.
Zakiya Norton, Norton Basu LLP, Chapter 111
Zakiya Norton is a Founding Principal of Norton Basu LLP. Admitted to the Nevada State Bar in 2010 and the California State Bar in 2013, Ms. Norton has experience in all aspects of litigation. She currently focuses her practice in the areas of estate planning, probate, conservatorships and litigation issues.
Ms. Norton is committed to keeping her client’s interests at heart and reaching timely resolutions of difficult situations. Within the estate planning field she handles a number of complex issues ranging from preparation of wills and revocable living trusts to forming family limited partnerships and limited liability companies. Ms. Norton makes it a priority to provide individualized counseling and representation in all areas of estate planning and listens carefully to her client’s problems to deliver representation that is both thoughtful and effective.
After graduating from law school, she gained civil litigation experience at a general practice, civil litigation law firm in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ms. Norton is dedicated to giving back to her community and continues to do extensive volunteer work. A native of the Bay Area, Ms. Norton grew up in Milpitas and currently resides in the South Bay with her family. Learn more: http://www.nortonbasu.com/