Often I’m asked for advice by clients on how to choose a trustee or a personal representative. Sometimes they suggest having co-trustees or co-personal representatives named where both can act together.

A trustee is the person chosen to mange the assets of the trust in accordance with the instructions you leave in your trust when it is created.

A personal representative carries out the instructions you leave in your will.

The trustee you have named as a successor trustee only takes over from you when you’ve died or become unable to manage your finances due to infirmity. A personal representative only gets to carry out the will once you’ve died.

The idea of co-trustees sounds nice, but co-trustees can lead to problems. One trust I’m helping a named trustee administer has a requirement that not only are the son and daughter of the deceased co-trustees, but that they cannot do anything without the agreement of the other.

Unfortunately and certainly its not the way the parent would have wanted it, but the siblings named as co-trustees don’t particularly like or trust each other so the trust administration is stalemated and it is almost guaranteed that court costs and court action will be necessary to get the trust handled.

Had the trustee simply named one of them as the trustee they would be in charge and responsible for their actions. The trust could be administered and distributed quickly according to the wishes of the deceased. As it is, they’re both stuck in a circle of distrust unable to move forward as they can’t agree on anything, even the simple commands left in the trust for how it is to be distributed.

When choosing a trustee or personal representative, just choose to have person to be the authority at a time, you can honor the other siblings just as well by making them successor trustees and prevent problems with administration of your estate.