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Choosing the wrong trustee can be a costly mistake

Among the most important decisions you'll make as you create your estate plan is naming the trustees and successor trustees of your trusts. A dishonest trustee can take all of your hard-earned assets and keep them from the loved ones and beneficiaries you intended to leave them to.

When considering whom you want to manage a trust, it's essential to look for someone who not only is honest but has good judgment. You want to be wary of anyone who has financial problems of their own, as they may have problems managing money and/or be tempted to embezzle funds from your trust.

If no one in your family or close circle meets those criteria, you may want to consider a private fiduciary. Many financial institutions have trust departments, and there are trust companies that will handle these responsibilities (for a fee, of course). Placing an impartial third party in charge of a trust (and other parts of your estate) can help minimize family battles as well. Your family law attorney can provide you with some recommendations.

Family members can help prevent loved ones from choosing someone to be a trustee or other fiduciary who may be unscrupulous or ill-equipped for the role. Too often, elderly people choose someone who's become close to them in their later years, like a caretaker, if their family members are spread across the country and are no longer in their lives very much. That's why it's wise to know something about your parents' and other elderly loved ones' estate plans while they're still around.

If a loved one becomes incapacitated or dies and you have concerns about a trustee, you have the right, if you are a beneficiary of the trust, to stay informed about their actions. If you have concerns about the actions of a trustee, you should consult with your loved one's estate planning attorney or an attorney of your own to determine what options you have to prevent the theft or mismanagement of your loved one's assets.

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