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Many people are inclined to name a family member or trusted friend as trustee in their estate plan, but managing family trusts and wealth is complicated. It requires time, resources, and expertise that many families or individuals do not often have on their own. The complications and stress of managing and administering a trust can be particularly acute during times of loss and other significant life changes. The current economic recession and ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic only deepen the anxiety families might feel about their financial futures.

Serving as trustee can be a huge undertaking and it comes with certain responsibilities and liabilities.

The responsibilities of a trustee can include education, administration, distribution, and investment management.

Education

A portion of a trustee's role can include educating any current and remainder beneficiaries on trust concepts, provisions, goals, investment strategy, and budgeting.

Administration

A trustee must follow the terms laid out in the trust document. Day-to-day administration covers many areas, but can include developing a distribution plan that takes into account current and future tax consequences, following principal and income accounting rules, managing the trust's cash flow needs, maintaining records for the preparation of trust tax returns, and coordinating family dynamics and communications in an impartial and unbiased manner.

Distribution

Managing distribution decisions and logistics is a large task. Trustees must ensure that distributions comply with the terms of the document and are accurately documented and reported. A trustee should also provide information and accounting to the beneficiary(ies).

Investment management

Part of a trustee's fiduciary duty includes collecting, protecting, and preserving trust assets, and ensuring those assets are titled in the trust's name. Subsequently, a trust's assets must be managed prudently, considering current and future needs of beneficiaries, while aligning with the trust document's objectives.

The Case for the Corporate Co-Trustee

We think the corporate co-trustee arrangement is an ideal solution for families with wealth. In this arrangement, a family member or individual shares the responsibility of trusteeship with a corporate trustee like Cumberland Trust. This way, a family member, or an individual close to the family, maintains a role in the trust management, while Cumberland Trust provides the professional experience needed to effectively administer the trust.

With a corporate trustee, co-trustee, executor, or co-executor you know you are in the hands of professionals who will remain unbiased in navigating modern family dynamics, such as blended families, aging concerns, or family members with disabilities. Additionally, a professional trust company will provide the continuity and stability that your family deserves.

Typically, naming a corporate trustee to serve as trustee or co-trustee provides many more client protections than utilizing a sole individual trustee.

Here are some of the ways a corporate trustee or co-trustee can provide additional protection:

Regulation: Trust companies are monitored by independent and government entities. This promotes effective implementation of processes and procedures and compliance with applicable regulations. 

Checks and Balances: Many corporate trustees like Cumberland Trust operate as a "directed trustee," allowing the grantor or the beneficiaries to use their preferred financial advisor to handle the investment management of the trust's liquid assets.

When utilizing a directed trustee, any conflict of interest that can exist when a trustee also manages the assets of the trust is eliminated. Under this model, financial advisory firms can add an additional layer of safeguards to trust accounts by overseeing invested assets and account activity.

Record-keeping: Serving as trustee or co-trustee for a family is an important job that requires a great deal of bookkeeping and many administrative duties, which trust companies are better equipped to undertake. Trust companies often have more standardized record-keeping and reporting practices in place, which ensures various aspects of administration of the account are carried out and accurately documented.

A corporate trustee or co-trustee can help clients feel confident that their trust and estate accounts are protected.

Families have many options to consider when creating an estate plan and choosing a trustee or an executor. Before agreeing to serve as an individual trustee, consider enlisting a corporate co-trustee as a partner. The corporate co-trustee can provide expertise, stability, impartiality, and peace of mind, while working together with an individual close to the family or a family member.

Cumberland Trust has a dedicated trust and estate administration team to support our senior clients and their families. Our team members have the experience and compassion needed to provide extra assistance to those clients who may need it, and to support families through life's transitions. We collaborate with your accountant, estate planning attorney, and financial advisor to help guide the wealth transfer process, and to follow the plan you have put in place.

Call or email Jean Jackson for more information and/or to arrange an office visit: 423-664-9747 or jjackson@cumberlandtrust.com. Visit our website (www.cumberlandtrust.com) to learn more about Cumberland Trust's services, our teams, and general information about trust and estate administration.

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