Trust Administration for Paralegals
guest author: Heather Niehoff
If your office is assisting in the administration of a Trust, your client is more than likely the Trustee. Who the Trustee is can be huge when analyzing the paralegal's role in the Trust administration process.
If the Trustee and the Settlor are one in the same person, your role as a paralegal assisting with Trust administration might include the following:
- Ensuring that your firm makes periodic check-ins with the Settlor to make sure his estate planning needs have not changed.
- Either actually preparing the necessary documents to transfer title of the Settlor's assets into the name of the Trust, or recommending and following- up with the Settlor to make sure these transfers have been completed.
- Making sure the Trust Income Tax Returns are filed in a timely manner, if necessary. In most cases, it's not necessary. All Trust income is usually reflected on the Settlor's personal Income Tax Return.
- Be available to answer any of the Settlor's questions or concerns.
- Keep in mind that the Trustee has the duty to keep all beneficiaries reasonably informed as to the administration of the Trust. So, if there are beneficiaries other than the Settlor that are receiving benefit from the Trust during the Settlor's lifetime, the paralegal's role might include working with the Settlor to prepare notices and annual accountings to be sent to those beneficiaries.
If the Trustee is not the Settlor, but instead is an individual nominated by the Settlor to serve as Trustee, and the Settlor is deceased, your role as a paralegal assisting with Trust administration might include the following:
- Thoroughly reviewing the Trust instrument with the Trustee to ensure that there is an understanding on how income and the corpus of the Trust is distributed, who it is distributed to, how often, and what discretion the Trustee has with making decisions on additional distributions.
- Sending copies of the Trust instrument to the beneficiaries.
- Applying for a Taxpayer Identification Number specifically for the Trust and making sure that all trust assets are identified with this number. Reminding the Trustee that record keeping is critical, and they are not to comingle Trust funds with their own funds. If they would prefer, your firm would be happy to hold the checkbook and the Trustee could call with check requests.
- If there are still assets out there that are in the name of the Settlor, helping the Trustee retitle them into the Trust.
- Following-up with the Trustee to make sure the required distributions are made in a timely manner.
- Did the Trustee file the necessary Trust Income Tax Returns? If not, remind him and/or schedule an appointment with a CPA, or, if your firm is able, prepare those Returns for the Trustee.
- Help the Trustee compile and send accountings (and any other notices required by the Trust) to all the beneficiaries at least annually.
- Do your best to keep the communication lines open between your office and the Trustee, and the Trustee and the beneficiary. Address issues quickly before they become huge feuds between the Trustee and the beneficiary.
If the Trustee is not the Settlor, but instead is a corporate entity nominated by the Settlor to serve as Trustee, and the Settlor is deceased, your role as a paralegal might include all of the above-referenced duties, or none of the above- referenced duties, depending on how experienced the corporate entity is with Trust administration.
Heather Niehoff is a legal assistant at Spalding | Law LLC in Bloomington, Indiana, where she works in probate and estate planning, as well personal injury and medical malpractice. Ms. Niehoff conducts legal and factual research, and client interviews. She prepares pleadings, memoranda, briefs, witness lists and exhibits. Ms. Niehoff is currently a part-time adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington, Indiana, where she teaches beginning and intermediate algebra courses. She also is a frequent lecturer for the Institute for Paralegal Education. Ms. Niehoff earned her B.S. degree from Indiana State University.
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