|How do I title accounts? Each bank or investment firm may have its own format, but generally you may use, for a trust, "Alice Carroll, Trustee, Lewis Carroll Trust dated January 19, 1998," or, in a shorthand version, "Alice Carroll, Trustee under agreement dated January 19, 1998." For an estate, "Alice Carroll, Executor, Estate of Lewis Carroll, Deceased."|
How do I sign my name in a fiduciary capacity? An executor signs: "Alice Carroll, Executor (or Personal Representative) of the Estate of Lewis Carroll, Deceased". A trustee signs: "Alice Carroll, Trustee".
Where do I hold the estate or trust assets? If you engage a trust company, they will open an account in the name of the estate or trust and provide regular statements showing all income and disbursements. You can open an investment account with a bank or brokerage company in the name of the estate or trust. All expenses and disbursements must be made from these accounts, and you should receive regular statements.
How (and how much) do I get paid? Fiduciary work is time-consuming and can be difficult; it is appropriate to seek payment for your services. The will or trust agreement may set forth the compensation. If they do not, many states provide either a fixed schedule to which you must adhere, or allow "reasonable" compensation, which usually takes into account the size of the estate, the complexity involved, and the time spent by the fiduciary. Executors or trustees fees are taxable compensation to you. As stated above, several states do not permit the fiduciary to pay his or her own compensation without a court order; check with your attorney before you write yourself a check.
What if a beneficiary complains? Even professional fiduciaries, such as trust companies, receive complaints from time to time. The best way to deal with them is to do your best to avoid them in the first place by following these guidelines and consulting with an attorney experienced in estate administration. Many complaints arise because beneficiaries are not kept up to date on the administration of the trust or estate. Frequent communication with beneficiaries is a must. Whenever possible, consult with an attorney who specializes in trust and estate matters when a complaint involves more than routine issues.
Can I be sued or be held personally liable? Your errors or mismanagement of a trust and estate can indeed subject you to personal liability. Common pitfalls include not paying tax or filing returns on time, improper investment choices (whether too conservative, too speculative, or favoring one beneficiary over another), self-dealing (buying assets for yourself or your family from the estate or trust, whether or not at market price), or allowing property or casualty insurance to lapse, resulting in a loss to the account. Your best protection is to get good professional advice and to fully document your actions and decisions.
How am I discharged as fiduciary at the end of the administration? What if I want to resign? Whether you stop acting because the estate or trust has terminated, or you wish to resign before the conclusion of your administration, you must be discharged, either by the local court or by the beneficiaries. In some states, this is a formal process, involving the preparation of an accounting. In others, a relatively simple document signed by the beneficiaries can be used. If you are resigning prior to the conclusion of your administration, check the document to see who succeeds you as fiduciary. If no successor is named, you may need a court proceeding to appoint a successor before you can be discharged.