Introduction to Trust Administration

When the settlor or settlors of a revocable trust die, the trust becomes irrevocable and the successor trustee is tasked with carrying out the settlor's final wishes as expressed in the trust agreement. One of the first tasks required of the trustee of such a trust by the Utah Code is to notify the trust beneficiaries that the trust exists, of the identity of the settlor(s), and that the beneficiaries have the right to request a copy of the trust agreement and the right to a trustee's report. This notice can be in the form of a letter that includes a copy of the trust agreement, the trustee's name and address, and a further notice that the beneficiaries have 90 days to commence a judicial proceeding to contest the validity of the trust until losing that right.

The trustee will need to marshal all trust assets, which will often require filing an affidavit of trusteeship with the county in which any trust real property is located, obtaining an EIN for the trust, making a claim for life insurance owed to the trust, and opening or taking control of any trust bank accounts or brokerage accounts. The trustee should also prepare an inventory of trust assets and maintain an accounting of all trust transactions. There are a number of potentially critical tax-related matters that may need to be attended to, particularly for large trusts, which are beyond the scope of this post. Another consideration is publishing notice to creditors of the trust (which can also be valid notice as to creditors of the decedent).

After all trust assets have been marshaled and debts and expenses paid, the trustee should send a letter to the trust beneficiaries with a "proposal for distribution" of the majority of the trust assets. This proposal should notify the beneficiaries of their right to object to the proposed distribution within 30 days; after this period, the right to object would terminate. This letter or a subsequent letter should enclose a "receipt and release" for each beneficiary and should explain that the trustee must receive all of the beneficiaries' receipts and releases before any distributions can be made. The trustee should withhold a small portion of trust funds for final expenses, such as a final tax return. Once all of the beneficiaries have signed and returned their receipt and release, the trustee can make the proposed distributions. Except for paying final expenses, closing accounts, and distributing any remaining amounts, the trustee's job in most cases will then be complete.