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By Allison L. Lee

Have a revocable living trust? Congratulations! By completing this important part of your estate plan you’re helping protect the people and causes that matter most to you, as well as removing any concerns they may have about what can be a lengthy and costly probate process after you’re gone.

Allison L. Lee is the Attorney-at-Law, Director Trusts & Estate Content for FreeWill, a mission-based public benefit corporation that partners with nonprofits to provide a simple, intuitive and efficient platform to create wills and other estate planning documents free of cost. Through its work democratizing access to these tools, FreeWill has helped raise more than $4 billion for charity.

Allison L. Lee

You've likely named yourself as trustee of your revocable living trust, giving yourself control over how its funds are managed. As your children age into adulthood, you may find yourself bringing them into these financial discussions. This may lead them to propose a common idea: letting them serve alongside you by naming them as co-trustee.

While appointing your adult child as a co-trustee can be a convenient option, it can also raise certain questions — including whether or not it’s a smart idea. There are certainly conveniences to this, but ask yourself: Is this a smart idea? To help you decide, here are three things you need to consider:

1. Do you and your child see eye-to-eye on financial matters?

Are you conservative with your finances, while your child has a greater appetite for financial risk-taking? While you likely don’t agree 100% of the time, as co-trustees you and your child need to be aligned when it comes to managing trust-owned property.

If you generally have different philosophies regarding finances, you could find it challenging to always reach a consensus. This could prevent specific transactions from moving forward or even stall important financial decisions.

These financial disagreements can be frustrating and may make you reconsider your child’s role as co-trustee. But while you may have full authority to hire and fire trustees if things aren't working out, the thought of firing your child might not sit right with you. You're not alone. In fact, most trust creators will not remove their child as co-trustee — even when there are serious financial consequences.

2. Are there practical considerations that would complicate this arrangement?

Certain logistics can play a large role in how successful a co-trustee relationship with your adult child can be.

For example, consider where you and your child live: Do they live close by or across the country? While a lot of business can take place entirely online, there's still a real benefit to being available to show up in person if things go wrong. Say there’s difficulty processing a transaction at the bank where your trust-owned account is held. It would be helpful to show up in-person to complete necessary paperwork, but this might not be doable if your co-trustee needs to fly across the country.

Unless you say otherwise when creating your trust, co-trustees must also act jointly on all decisions.


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You could state that each co-trustee can act independently of the other. The problem with this, however, is that in most cases it gives your child the ability to take action on behalf of the trust unilaterally. If you're still fully able to manage your finances, how would you feel if your child entered into a transaction that didn't meet your current needs or align with your investment philosophy?

3. Would a co-trustee arrangement with one child cause you to rethink your entire estate planning as a result?

Some trust creators feel that if they name one adult child as co-trustee of their revocable living trust, they then — in the interest of fairness — must name their other children as primary decision-makers for their other lifetime planning documents, like their health and financial powers of attorney.

But choosing your agents in your estate plan should never be about being fair or keeping the peace. Each agent plays an important role in carrying out your affairs and fulfilling your wishes, and naming the wrong person for a specific job can be a disaster. For example, choosing someone who often makes financially imprudent decisions to handle your finances can lead to the excessive spending of your assets. Similarly, naming someone who doesn't share your values on end-of-life treatment can make it less likely you'll receive care that aligns with your preferences.

If naming one child as a co-trustee makes you feel the need to restructure the rest of your plan to include your other children, it probably makes sense to reconsider your planning options.

Bottom line

It’s completely possible for a co-trustee arrangement between you and your adult child to be a workable approach to managing your revocable living trust. If you and your child mostly see eye-to-eye on matters of finance, they live close by, and they can make themselves available to attend to trust affairs on short notice, then the arrangement is likely to be successful. By carefully considering the pros and cons of naming your adult child as a co-trustee, you can make the decision that will work best for you and your needs.

If making your adult child your co-trustee doesn’t work for you, there are other solutions. For most trust creators, naming their adult child as a successor trustee is a better option. This allows them to step in if and when you become unable to manage your trust affairs. This way, you retain full decision-making authority as long as you're able, avoid any added complications, and have a plan in place to transition this important authority in the future.

About the author: Allison L. Lee

Allison L. Lee is the Attorney-at-Law, Director Trusts & Estate Content for FreeWill, a mission-based public benefit corporation that partners with nonprofits to provide a simple, intuitive and efficient platform to create wills and other estate planning documents free of cost. Through its work democratizing access to these tools, FreeWill has helped raise more than $4 billion for charity.


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