Trust and Estate Administration Lawyers

When the creator of a will or trust dies, an executor is appointed to manage the estate if the decedent had a will or a successor trustee is appointed to manage trust assets if the decedent had a trust. If the decedent died without an estate plan, an administrator may be appointed to oversee the estate. Each of these roles has profound legal implications.

While often complex in nature, estate and trust administration can be streamlined with the help of an experienced attorney. The seasoned legal team at Keystone is here to help executors, administrators and trustees navigate the legal responsibilities of their role.

Contact our team today to schedule a free consultation.

  • Do you need help understanding the terms of the will or trust?
  • Do you need help creating an inventory of estate or trust assets?
  • Do you need help preparing estate or trust accountings?
  • Do you need to sell estate or trust property?
  • Do you need help deciding whether to litigate a claim related to the estate or trust?
  •  Are you dealing with challenging or uncooperative beneficiaries?
  • Are you unsure of the role you should play in an estate or trust dispute?

These are just a few of the issues our experienced estate and trust administration lawyers can help resolve during administration. We understand that protecting yourself against liabilities, as well as the estate or trust against financial harm are of utmost importance, so our goal is to provide you with the knowledge, resources and support to make administration as seamless as possible.

What Are Trust and Estate Administration?

Estate administration is the process estates must undergo before the decedent’s assets can be distributed to beneficiaries pursuant to the decedent’s will, or if there is no will, pursuant to the laws of intestate succession. At the helm of estate administration is the executor or administrator, who begins overseeing the estate once they are officially appointed to the role by the court. 

Trust administration is the process trusts must undergo before trust assets can be distributed to beneficiaries. At the helm of trust administration is the successor trustee, who takes over management of the trust upon the death or incapacitation of the settlor, who usually serves as the initial trustee of a trust.

Executors and trustees share many of the same administrative responsibilities, including:

  • Creating an inventory of assets and their value at the time of the decedent’s death
  • Securing and preserving the decedent’s property
  • Satisfying any outstanding obligations to the decedent’s creditors
  • Preparing periodic accountings to beneficiaries
  • Keeping beneficiaries reasonably informed about administration
  • Litigating on behalf of the estate or trust if necessary
  • Making timely distributions to beneficiaries

Both executors and trustees are fiduciaries, which means that they have a duty to always act in the beneficiaries’ best interests. If they don’t, they could be sued. The best way to avoid such situations is to have skilled estate and trust administration attorneys on your team to guide you and assist with your duties. Executors and trustees almost always have the right to pay for the services of attorneys and other professionals with estate or trust funds, so long as their services provided a benefit to the estate or trust, respectively.

Why Do You Need an Estate or Trust Administration Attorney?

You may have the need for an estate or trust administration attorney if you are the executor or administrator of an estate or the trustee of a trust, especially if it is your first time acting in this capacity. Because the duties that come with this role are extensive and complex, even seasoned executors and trustees often hire lawyers to assist with administration.

 

There is little room for mistakes, misconduct or negligence when dealing with estates and trusts, as they can cause financial harm to the estate or trust and threaten beneficiaries’ inheritances. Having a trusted lawyer on your team can help prevent such errors and protect you against liabilities.

 

Lastly, if the need arises for the executor or trustee to litigate (e.g., they discover that the decedent had been financially abused when alive), they can hire a lawyer to represent the estate or trust.
While it’s possible to complete administration without the help of a law firm, utilizing the services of a trusted probate administration lawyer will make your job easier.

Interpreting the Will or Trust

IOne of the first things an executor or trustee will want to do following a decedent’s death is to interpret the will or trust instrument. This can be difficult to do if you don’t have legal expertise or a basic knowledge of estate planning; however, with the help of a trust and estate administration lawyer, you can rest assured that the document will be interpreted correctly. Sometimes, wills and trusts contain ambiguous language, which you should never take upon yourself to interpret. A lawyer should be consulted about the matter instead, and if necessary, they can file a petition with the court to obtain clarification about the true meaning of the language.

Carrying Out Financial Obligations

Executors and trustees have so many financial responsibilities during administration that it can be difficult to keep track of them all. They not only have to create an inventory of estate or trust assets and record any time an asset enters or leaves the estate or trust, but they also have to satisfy the decedent’s debts, pay their taxes and prepare periodic accountings to share with beneficiaries and the court. All of these steps are equally important.

 

While it is natural to feel overwhelmed, you do not have to carry the burden of completing these financial tasks on your own; a lawyer can help. Working with a lawyer can help ensure all of these obligations are taken care of and done correctly.

Litigating, Selling Property and Making Other Important Decisions

Over the course of administration, executors and trustees will have to make important decisions about the estate or trust, such as whether to buy or sell real property, invest estate or trust funds, litigate on behalf of the estate or trust, etc. Some of these decisions will require court approval, and others will not. The only way to ensure you are considering all the variables when making decisions such as these is to involve a lawyer in a decision-making process.

Protecting Yourself Against Liabilities

As a fiduciary, you are expected to abide by certain fiduciary duties or you could face a breach of duty claim.

 

 These duties include: 

  • Acting in the beneficiaries’ best interests at all times
  • Avoiding conflicts of interests
  • Avoiding impartiality by favoring one beneficiary over another
  • Not making risky investments
  • Not carrying out financial transactions for personal gain
  • Not misappropriating, misusing or mismanaging assets
  • Providing beneficiaries with accountings and information about administration
  • Making distributions to beneficiaries in a timely fashion
  • Keeping the assets of the estate or trust separate from personal assets

 

By consulting with an experienced trust and estate administration attorneys prior to making decisions, you are less likely to make decisions that could land you in hot water and cause you to be removed and surcharged.

Making Distributions

The last step of estate and trust administration is making timely distributions to beneficiaries. This responsibility may seem straightforward, but it frequently is not, and can be filled with tax complications.  An experienced attorney, with the assistance of your tax adviser, will have the skills to correctly calculate, allocate and distribute each beneficiary’s share. 

 

Once the amount of each beneficiary’s distribution has been determined and the estate or trust has been settled, distributions should be made promptly. If you are the trustee of a trust, it is possible your distributions will be more complicated, as trusts often call for distributions not to be made as lump-sum payments but on a repeating schedule. A lawyer can help you make distributions on time and in the manner prescribed by the document.

 

Our Estate and Trust Administration Firm

At Keystone, our team specializes in probate law. We understand that being appointed as the executor or trustee can be a foreign experience, so we are proud to help clients nationwide with understanding and carrying out the responsibilities of their role. This way, both beneficiaries and you can have confidence in your administration of the trust or estate

Our Trust Administration Lawyers

Our team at Keystone focuses exclusively on probate law, so we have the experience needed to effectively serve and advise you in the administration of an estate or trust. Many members of our team have received numerous accolades and accomplishments in probate law, including:

 

  • Specialist Certifications in Estate Planning and Trust and Probate Law (State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization)
  • Speaking engagements on the topic of probate law for attorneys, CPAS, and other professionals
  • Teaching concepts, such as wills and trusts, to law students

Recognition in professional publications Daily Journal, Super Lawyers Magazine, and Best Lawyers®

Locations We Serve

We specialize in 

  • Los Angeles County
  • Orange County
  • Calabasas
  • Pasadena
  • Santa Barbara
  • San Diego