Answer: Maybe you don’t.
We refer to the process of settling mom and dad’s affairs as a “trust administration.” If you are the trustee that they named in their trust, this is the project you have in front of you. Other varieties exist; perhaps a probate administration or a “small estate” administration. The core tasks of each of these are the same, and we can help whether there was a trust or not.
Sometimes a trust administration is very simple. If you are the only beneficiary, and mom and dad only had a few assets, then you may do just fine without an attorney helping you through the process. However, if it gets beyond that then you may want to just come in and talk to us about it.
Here is why.
When you become the trustee (because of either the death, or the incapacity, of your parent or loved one) there are a variety of legal duties that “clamp on” to you. They are odorless and colorless so you may not know they are there. You owe certain duties to the beneficiaries (for example your siblings) and other interested parties (for example the IRS, creditors, and other government agencies).
These duties include the duty to administer the trust efficiently, the duty account, the duty to keep records, the duty to not commingle trust assets, the duty to communicate, the duty to distribute, the duty of loyalty, and others. For each of the duties, the flip-side is liability. In other words, should you fail to adhere to any of these duties then the beneficiaries and interested parties have the right to call you to account for that failure.
A proper trust administration takes time and attention to detail. You may have to run down various accounts; clean out your loved one’s house and a lifetime of their belongings; deal with realtors, title and escrow companies; and file multiple tax returns. All of this may be occurring while your concerned siblings are calling and hassling you while you are on your way to pick up your kids from school or soccer. It is a day job on top of the day job you already have. And you are trying to pull it off while mourning the loved one you lost.
What we do to help is burden reduction. We will advise you about your duties and how to carry each of them out with an eye towards warding off liability. We will work with you to organize the various tasks, prioritize according to what has to happen first and then later, and then get you through to the end of the project.
You can come in to talk about it with us. We offer a free half-hour consult, just to talk to you about the project and give you the chance to figure out whether you need us. Yes, we are attorneys, but we don’t bite. Contact us through our online form; ask that your message is forwarded to Kurt.