For better or worse (no pun intended!), online dating apps have brought the term “swiping right” into our general lexicon as a way to describe showing interest in a possible match. Swipe right on someone’s picture to show you’re interested. If they independently swipe right on you, it’s a match and you can start a conversation. What happens next is not guaranteed. Maybe you'll find a potential long-term mate (or a short-term distraction, whichever—no judgment!). Or maybe you'll end up eliminating them from that list.

Much like online dating, choosing a successor trustee for your trust can be a hit-or-miss decision. And, also like online dating, you may not find out if your choice is a good one until it’s too late.

However, if you know the ABCs of a good successor trustee candidate, then your beneficiaries are much more likely to avoid squabbles, confusion, and unnecessary delays. The ABCs are commonsense qualities that will serve your legacy, your beneficiaries, and your trust well.

A is for Availability

Your successor trustee should be able, willing, and local enough to be able to perform all the duties that accompany the fiduciary role of successor trustee. Your successor trustee doesn’t necessarily have to live the same town, or even the same state, as you. Like long-distance relationships, this arrangement can work, but it is more difficult and expensive. So try to pick someone local if you can—but don’t worry if all the good candidates are farther away. You can still make it work.

B is for Background

Now, this doesn’t mean that your successor trustee has to be from the exact same background as you! What a successor trustee with the right background does possess is maturity, responsibility, and an appreciation and understanding of your wishes in order to execute your estate plan. After all, your estate rests in the hands of your successor trustee. This person has to have the maturity to withstand competing interests, insistent beneficiaries, and a whole bunch of paperwork. Additionally, if your estate is full of complex financial investments and multiple houses in different states, then perhaps Cousin Joe who thinks secure banking means stashing his money under his mattress is not the best choice. Sorry, Cousin Joe, but it’s a left-swipe for you.

C is for Confidence

You should pick a successor trustee in whom you have the utmost confidence, and someone that you feel is honest and loyal. It may happen that your successor trustee doesn’t agree with all the decisions you have made in your estate plan. However, this person is still bound by your wishes and should have a strong enough sense of honesty and loyalty to carry out your wishes. In fact, the law requires it.

It may seem like the perfect successor trustee—much like the perfect online date—is nearly impossible to find. It’s not as difficult as you think. Trust your instincts. Don’t be swayed by emotional decisions, and do discuss your choices and any concerns with your estate planning attorney. With the right guidance, and by evaluating your options based on the ABCs, you can find the right successor trustee. Alas, we can’t promise the same with online dating.

Image credit: Icon by Freepik from licensed by CC 3.0 BY

About the Authors

Zakiya J. Norton is a South Bay native and cofounder of Norton Basu LLP. Giving back to the community has always been a priority for Zakiya, and she met her business partner, Somita Basu, while volunteering at Bay Area Legal Aid. In estate planning, Zakiya takes a strong strategic view combined with a keen eye for the intricacies and potential pitfalls that can occur with unseen circumstances. She is on the Board of Directors of Cancer CAREpoint, which provides valuable services free of cost to all cancer patients and their families. In addition to her bar membership, she is also a special liaison to the California Lawyer’s Association Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee.

Somita Basu grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and lived in several places along the Eastern Seaboard as well as in India and Singapore before arriving in California. After passing the bar, she wanted to immerse herself in the community and give back, so she began volunteering at Bay Area Legal Aid, where she met Zakiya Norton. Having lived and worked abroad, Somita has a deep appreciation for how cultural perspectives affect people’s decisions about their estate. She also understands the complexities of handling overseas assets. Somita has served in the Solo and Small Firm Section of the California Lawyers Association and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Outreach Committee of the California Lawyers Association. She continues to give back to the community as a board member of Justice At Last.