Home Features Law AZ Law: First 9 Steps for Taking Over as Trustee


After a loved one dies, a family member or close friend often steps in as successor trustee of a living trust. This time period is often fraught with grief and anxiety as the successor trustee endeavors to ascertain what happens next. The following are some of the first nine steps a successor trustee must take.

  • Grieve. Take time to plan the funeral, grieve your loss, and allow the family to get their bearings. Few things rise to the level of an emergency after the loss of a loved one.
  • Collect information. Begin collecting the deceased’s mail and consider redirecting the mail. Review the mail collected and compile a list of the deceased’s expenses, service providers, debts, and liabilities.
  • Close accounts and pay final expenses. Contact each service provider such as the cable company and electric company and advise of the passing of the deceased, close the deceased’s account, and pay the last set of expenses.
  • Contact benefits providers and other asset holders. Reach out to the Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs, Department of Health, Department of Motor Vehicles, Registrar of Voters, credit reporting agencies, life insurance company, or pension provider and advise the deceased has passed. Certain payments will cease (e.g., Social Security). Other benefits will be distributed (e.g., life insurance.
  • Inventory assets. Begin to collect and compile a list of the deceased’s assets. Review copies of the deceased’s bank and brokerage statements, stock and bond certificates, life insurance policies, corporate records, car and boat titles, and deeds for real estate, among other assets. Assess the value and likely beneficiary of each asset. Evaluate if the deceased had a personal property memorandum or other document detailing how tangible personal property is to be distributed. Be careful not to discard any item a family member or loved one would like to keep.
  • Establish estate accounts. Go to the bank. Create a bank account in the name of the estate. Pay estate expenses from the estate accounts. Do not mix trust assets/accounts with personal assets/accounts.
  • Keep a detailed accounting. Successor trustees should keep detailed records of expenses paid, how the expenses were paid, if a third party is to be reimbursed for paying any estate expenses (e.g., funeral expenses), and the time spent handling trust matters.
  • Identify trust beneficiaries. Review the trust instrument, identify the beneficiaries of the trust, evaluate when and how beneficiaries are to receive a distribution from the trust, and notify the beneficiaries of their interest in the trust.
  • Pay taxes. A final set of income and death taxes will need to be filed and/or paid. Even if no taxes are owed, a final tax statement must be filed to notify the IRS of the deceased’s passing.

Stepping in as a successor trustee can be work and even overwhelming at times. Successor trustees can engage an accountant, lawyer, and other professionals to assist in carrying out their duties, paid for by the trust.

If you have lost a loved one and require assistance stepping into the role of a successor trustee or want to ensure a successor trustee is acting property, contact Allison Kierman at 480.719.7333 or visit Kierman Law, PLC at  www.kiermanlaw.com