Troubleshooting Legal Problems

Is an estate executor the same as a successor trustee?

An estate executor is someone named in a will who ensures that your final wishes are carried out and your assets go to the heirs you designate. A successor trustee oversees a revocable trust you created if you become unable to do so or if you die. That successor trustee is responsible for disbursing your assets to your beneficiaries.

Sounds like these roles are practically the same, doesn’t it? Actually, there are some major differences. It may help you to understand these differences now, especially if you are making your end-of-life arrangements.

One of those differences involves probate

An executor takes care of several important duties while a will goes through probate. For example, your executor would alert your creditors to your death, file your last income taxes and get a determination of the value of your assets. 

A revocable trust, however, does not have to go through the probate process. That step is entirely bypassed. Therefore, a successor trustee is not held accountable to report all their actions to the probate court, unlike an estate executor. 

What is another conspicuous difference between these roles?

The length of time that each role lasts can be very different. Your executor takes charge of matters associated with your estate as soon as you pass away. While probate can be a drawn-out process, it may also wrap up rather quickly. 

With a revocable trust, however, depending upon the arrangements you specified, it can easily take years to settle everything. Perhaps you left money to an heir who is still a youngster. According to your wishes, that heir cannot inherit those funds until they are much older, maybe eighteen or twenty-one years old. That means your successor trustee is in charge of that money until then, a period lasting several years. Thus, their role lasts throughout that time.

If you have questions or concerns

You want to do everything correctly to avoid problems in the future for your heirs. Check to see that you are following all laws in your state regarding wills, estate plans and trusts.