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.
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.
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.
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.