Can I Change a Successor Trustee Without a Lawyer?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Can I Change a Successor Trustee Without a Lawyer?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When you create a revocable living trust, you usually specify at least one successor trustee who steps in to manage the trust if you pass away or become incapacitated. If you want to change the successor name to a different person or organization, you may be able to do so without hiring a lawyer. Be aware that state laws vary somewhat on how this person is replaced.

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Review the Trust Agreement

The trust agreement establishes who has authority to appoint and remove trustees, under what circumstances they can exercise those powers, and the legal steps and formalities they must take to do so.

Generally speaking, a living trust's grantor (the person who created the revocable living document) may appoint or remove trustees during their lifetime without hiring an attorney. The grantor can accomplish this by either creating an amendment to it or by revoking the original document and creating a new trust.

After the grantor's death, the trustee—or even the beneficiaries, in some cases—may be able to change the successor trustee by removing or appointing a new successor without going to court or involving a lawyer. State laws govern the administration of trusts. If an agreement is silent on trustee appointment and removal, look to the laws of the state governing the trust.

Choosing Successor Trustees

When you name a successor for a trust, consider that person's ability and availability to meet their responsibilities. Their duties include collecting and inventorying trust assets, handling expenses and bills for the trust, investing assets, making periodic accounting and tax filings, managing assets in a prudent manner, and distributing assets as specified in the agreement.

You can name one or more competent adults as successor trustees. Alternatively, some people choose a professional fiduciary such as a bank.

Legal Formalities

If you change the successor trustee by amending or revoking your revocable agreement, follow your state's legal formalities. In some states, grantors need two adult witnesses when they sign a trust agreement or amendment. You may also need to sign the amendment or new trust agreement in the presence of a notary public.

In cases where the successor trustee, a trust protector, or the beneficiaries want to change the successor, the underlying document may include the procedures to appoint or remove a successor. For example, removals or appointments may need to be written, signed, and delivered to a designated successor or to the beneficiaries.

If you want to create a new trust or learn about amending an existing trust to change the designated successor trustee, work with an attorney or hire an estate planning attorney licensed in your state.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.