November 16, 2022

What happens if I don’t have a Successor Trustee?

If a Trust does not have any living Successor Trustees, very likely a professional fiduciary would be appointed by the court. However, having your Trust (and beneficiaries) deal with the cost and hassles of the court is not ideal. Here are some helpful considerations.

When preparing a Trust, it is wise to have a sufficiently long list of Successor Trustees. While typically, 2 or 3 (being mindful of age) is advisable, there are reasons you may want to consider having a long list.

Suppose your beneficiaries are particularly young. For example: If you have a 1-year-old child and you want the Trust to manage their inheritance until they are 35 years old, and you die next week (despite seeming dark, this is the approach we must take when planning), you will need a Successor Trustee to serve for 34 years. That is a very long time. Perhaps a family member or close friend could do it for some of that time, but a failure of health or other limitations may force them to “pass the baton” to the next Successor Trustee in line. With this long period of potential Trusteeship, a list of four or even five may be appropriate.

Your Successor Trustee is relatively older. As earlier alluded to, the age of your Successor Trustees can be very relevant. For example, if your Successor Trustees are in their early 30s, they have a much higher statistical likelihood of being alive and healthy for that entire 34-year stretch (using our previous example). However, if your first Successor Trustee is your 68-year-old father, we would likely want a longer list to account for the Successor Trustees’ age vs. potential length of Trusteeship.

What Do You Do If You Have A Short List Of Trustee Candidates? Another common scenario is Settlors (the creator/s of the Trust) that have a small family or, for other reasons, have only a few people they feel are sufficiently dependable. For example, if you have one sibling and no living parents, you may have a shorter list of people you would trust, with the responsibility of being a Successor Trustee. In this scenario, it can be wise to use a Trust Company as a backup Successor Trustee. That way, if everyone on your list of Successor Trustees is unable to serve, the Trust Company can be appointed without the Trust getting tangled up in court.


This article represents the opinion of the author and is intended for educational purposes. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. One should always consult with an experienced attorney before making estate planning decisions.

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