Choosing a Successor Trustee: Why Your First Thought May Not Be Your Best Option

Beth Misak |

By Paul Hynes, CFP®
September 2018

"There are many considerations to make before designating a person for this critical role."

What will happen to your estate once you are gone? This is a daunting question. Much depends on the estate planning you do today. This includes the people you choose to run your estate when you’re not around.

One of the most important decisions you will make regarding your personal estate plan is choosing your successor trustee. There are many considerations to make before designating a person for this critical role. A common misconception is that family members are your only option. They’re not. Often, they’re not your best option, either.

Administering an estate plan is like running a business. It’s complicated and requires knowledge, experience, energy, time, organization, judgment and dedication. It’s a job, not a privilege.

When considering a candidate, ask: “If this person was in the marketplace offering the services required for this job, would anyone else hire him?” If your answer is “no,” keep searching. If you can’t find anyone from within your friends and family, then you should consider hiring a professional trustee.

Find someone who’s trained, educated, experienced and licensed. That person may be a CPA, an attorney, an employee at a large trust department, or a professional fiduciary. In California, you should look for a Certified Licensed Professional Fiduciary (CLPF).

What are professional fiduciaries’ duties? They manage clients’ personal affairs relating to daily care, housing, medical needs, and sometimes personal finances. They can administer estate plans and much more.

You should consider seeking the services of a professional if you’re someone who:
  • Wants to avoid placing the burden on friends and family
  • Doesn’t have friends and family with the appropriate skills or time availability
  • Doesn’t have a friend or family member you trust
  • Would like to avoid conflicts between family members  
Don’t underestimate that last point. Conflicts can and will arise, even in the most stable families. Behavior isn’t always rational or reasonable when it comes to money, even in seemingly small amounts.

Speaking of money, a professional will be paid for services rendered. However, this price is often much less than the cost of potential family squabbles, conflicts, damaged relationships, and litigation.

Since you’ve already invested the time, trouble and expense to establish your estate plan, why skimp on one of its most important parts—choosing a successor trustee? If you love your family, treat this decision with the gravity it deserves. Remember, you’re not alone. Your estate planning attorney and other advisors will be happy to provide valuable guidance.

For more information about professional fiduciaries, visit the Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC) website at

Note: All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. This is not to be construed and legal or tax advice. Consult with your legal and tax professional before taking any action.

Representatives of HearthStone | Private Wealth Management are unable to provide tax or legal advice, your tax and/or legal adviser should be consulted for such guidance. Data has been obtained from sources believed reliable but cannot be guaranteed accurate. This is intended to serve as general information only and not to be construed as personalized investment advice, nor considered a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or investment products or strategies. Investment values fluctuate based on market prices and may be more or less than the amount originally invested.