If you are setting up a Will trust for your family’s long-term benefit, one of the key decisions to make is who should be trustee of your Will trust. This may, for example, be a Will trust to hold funds for your children until they are older, or perhaps a trust for the benefit of your spouse for life. Either way, the clue is in the name – the people you choose as your executors and trustees must be thoroughly trustworthy.
Characteristics of a good Trustee
So what does the ideal trustee look like? For starters, it should be someone who is financially beyond reproach, with a good track record of handling their own finances sensibly. Someone with integrity is essential. They should also be sensible and pragmatic. If they are good with paperwork, that is a significant bonus, because there will inevitably be a degree of ongoing documentation for any trustee to deal with in the course of running a Will trust. Trustees will typically need to either prepare or approve trustees’ minutes of regular meetings to make decisions about the trust, an annual trust tax return and annual trust accounts.
Test of a good trustee
If in doubt, I always think a good basic test of someone’s ability to deal with paperwork is to post them something that needs signing and ask them to sign and return it. Possibly also having their signature witnessed by an independent witness, if required. Experience has taught me that this simple request really sorts the sheep from the goats. I do this regularly in the course of my work, particularly when making Lasting Powers of Attorney, and responses vary widely. Some people will sign and return straight away, very efficiently. Others need chasing, and still others can barely be induced to deal with it even after multiple chasers, along with reminders from their friend/family member whom the document relates to. Needless to say, the latter category will make terrible trustees, however lovely they may otherwise be as friends or family members!
Relationships are also crucial. It’s very helpful if your trustees get on well with (a) the other trustees and (b) the beneficiaries of your Will trust, as they will have an ongoing connection to each other via the trust and will need to work together if all is to run smoothly. That said, we are not looking for yes-men or yes-women – your chosen trustee must have a backbone and be prepared to stand up to the other trustees and the beneficiaries if necessary, if they are ever put under pressure to do something that they do not believe is in keeping with the purpose of the trust. They are there to balance the interests of the respective beneficiaries and to carry out the purpose of the trust as intended by the testator, as far as possible.
Chiltern Wills is a Will writing business based in Beaconsfield and run by former London solicitor Rebecca D’Arcy. To make an appointment to discuss your Will or Lasting Powers of Attorney or for assistance with probate, call 01494 708688 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.