Estate planning clients frequently ask if it is important to separate the roles of PR and Successor Trustee.
Before diving into this question, it would be helpful to review the responsibilities of these two roles:
Personal Representative – A Personal Representative (also called an executor in some states) oversees the administration of the decedent’s estate. Specifically, those portions of the estate that have not been moved into a Trust (or transferred via POD, TOD, etc.) at the time of the decedent’s death.
You can choose to name a person, multiple people (serving jointly), or a professional fiduciary (e.g. a bank or trust company). While technically a judge will appoint the Personal Representative, your choice is typically honored (barring extraordinary circumstances).
Trustee – A Trustee is the one who manages the assets of the Trust.
With a Living Trust, the creator(s) (also called “Settlor”) of the Trust often serve as Trustee during their lifetime (married couples typically serve as co-trustees). Upon the death or incapacity of the Settlors, the Successor Trustee(s) steps in to manage the Trust’s assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
So, in the end it is the Successor Trustee that ultimately carries out the instructions of your Trust.
Should you select different people for these roles?
I believe it is typically unnecessary to divide these responsibilities. Your Personal Representative essentially ensures your Will is carried out as written and your Successor Trustee essentially ensures your Trust is carried out as written. These responsibilities are distinct from one another.
Additionally, the criteria for the individuals you select for these roles is quite similar. For both Personal Representative and Successor Trustee, you should choose someone responsible and honest. Likewise, this person should be good at “getting things done.” They do not need to be an expert in all things. Your Will and Trust, respectively, allow these individuals to hire professionals (attorneys, accountants, etc.) on behalf of your estate. Above all, your Personal Representative and Successor Trustee should be someone you trust.
For plenty of clients, their lists of primary and back-up Personal Representatives and Successor Trustees, look similar or identical.