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How to handle distributing assets as a trustee

Unlike what movies and TV would have you believe, the administration of an estate does not occur immediately after someone passes on. Typically, a trustee does not begin handling a trust until after the funeral and memorial arrangements.

Trusts can stipulate assets are distributed a variety of ways, so this affects the steps you take as a trustee. However, you must begin somewhere, so here is how to get started distributing assets from a trust.

Contact the executor

It is possible there is also an executor of the estate. If there is another person acting as the executor, you should contact him or her. The executor may transfer assets to the estate, so you will need to be aware of whether he or she is making any of these arrangements.

Get organized

After you speak to the executor, start getting organized. Here are a few things you will need to do:

  • Obtain the death certificates. (You likely will need multiple copies.)
  • File a will with the probate court.
  • Notify the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health.
  • Review trust documents to identify the beneficiaries.
  • Take an inventory and review trust assets.
  • Locate and notify trust beneficiaries.
  • Get a tax identification number for the trust.
  • Transfer assets into your name.
  • Appraise any assets, like real estate or business interests.
  • Pay off debts.

Working as a trustee mainly hinges on your ability to stay organized. You need to understand how much the property included is worth, who the heirs are and what debts are associated with the trust. You may need to pay off funeral expenses, loans and any other outstanding debts.

Keep an accurate accounting

You must record all this information, so you keep an accurate accounting of the ins and outs of the money. A trustee needs to report any gains and losses of the trust to the IRS, before you distribute any assets. After debts are paid off, you distribute the assets to the named beneficiaries.

Some trusts are more complex than others. You may simply pay off debts and distribute the remaining assets. Or a trust may be set up to care for minor children, so you will have ongoing work to do. Larger estates are often more complex, so this can cause issues for the trustee.

If you have concerns about administering a trust correctly, you may want to reach out to an estate planning attorney with experience administering trusts. An attorney can walk you through all the correct legal steps and ensure you pay the appropriate taxes.

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