When clients have estate plans prepared, they must choose people they trust to fill certain roles in estate plan documents. The biggest shoes to fill are the executor of a will, and the trustee of a trust (if the client is getting a trust). The duties for both roles are different because the documents do different things. Sometimes the same person fills both roles, if that’s what the client wants and if the person they choose agrees.
An “executor” is the person named in your Last Will and Testament to wrap up your affairs after you die. You might be expected to:
- Pay financial obligations including taxes of the decedent from estate assets
- Manage the estate by possibly submitting a will for probate, gathering the decedent’s assets and holding them until they are sold or distributed
- Contacting government institutions and agencies to stop benefit payments
- Represent the estate in legal matters
The role of an executor typically lasts for 13 months or under in Ohio. You are wrapping up someone’s affairs and distributing their assets as their will dictates. Once bills are paid and assets are sold or distributed, your role ends.
A “trustee” is the person named in your trust (often, a “revocable living trust”) to perform the duties stated in your trust. You might be expected to:
- Manage the assets in the trust, which might be monetary assets, a home, etc.
- Distribute trust assets according to the terms of the trust. Common terms include the trustee paying for a beneficiary’s college expenses, distributing portions of the assets of the trust at certain ages
- Communicating with the beneficiaries
The role of a trustee lasts for the lifetime of the trust. A trust ends once final distributions are made or assets are exhausted. A trust can also be terminated, which mostly happens when the value of the assets of the trust make administering the trust impossible–the trust’s assets diminish in value to the point of the trust not being able to pay trustee fees or other expenses.
Both roles carry some amount of personal liability, impose fiduciary responsibility, and can be time consuming. If you were named in either role, then the person creating the documents trusts you, your abilities and judgment.
If you have been named the executor or trustee in someone’s will or trust, and you have questions or need guidance, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.