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So You Just Became the Trustee of Your Parents' Estate in California. Now What?

Posted by James Burns | Mar 10, 2024 | 0 Comments

Unfortunately, your parents have presumably both passed away - brace yourself—you've just stepped into the significant role of a successor trustee for your parents' estate. In California, this responsibility carries with it a complex set of duties, guidelines, and legal frameworks that can seem daunting, especially if you're navigating this path for the first time in places like Aliso Viejo, Orange County. This blog aims to guide you through the initial steps, outline your responsibilities, and introduce the concept of trustee compensation, all while highlighting the importance of considering your own estate planning. Remember, professional advice is key in this journey, and the Law Office of James Burns in Aliso Viejo is ready to assist. You can reach them at 949-305-8642 or visit for expert guidance.


Your Duties as a Trustee in California

As a trustee, you're now the caretaker of your parents' estate, acting on behalf of the beneficiaries with both loyalty and care. Your responsibilities are broad and vary depending on the specific trust documents, but they typically include some of these:


  • Understanding the Trust: Begin by thoroughly reading the trust documents to grasp your parents' wishes, the scope of the assets, and the beneficiaries' details.


·         Obtaining a New EIN for the Estate: If the estate is separate from any trust that may exist, you'll need to secure a new Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This step is essential for tax purposes and for consolidating the estate's financial accounts under one umbrella. The EIN essentially serves as a Social Security Number for the estate, enabling you to open new accounts, manage existing ones, and ensure all financial activities are properly tracked and reported.


·         Ordering Death Certificates: Another immediate task is to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate from the local county office. These documents are necessary for a wide range of purposes, including closing accounts, claiming life insurance proceeds, and transferring ownership of assets. It's advisable to get several copies, as various institutions will likely require an original document to process your requests.


  • Inventorying Assets: Compile a comprehensive list of the estate's assets, which could range from real estate and bank accounts to personal belongings and investments.


  • Beneficiary Notifications: California law mandates that trustees notify all beneficiaries about the trust. This includes providing them with information about the trust's existence, their rights, and any actions you plan to take.


  • Estate Management: You're tasked with managing the estate's assets prudently. This means ensuring that bills are paid, investments are managed wisely, and the assets are secure.


  • Legal and Tax Compliance: You must navigate the trust's legal requirements and tax implications, ensuring that all filings are completed accurately and on time.


The Question of Trustee Compensation

California recognizes the right of trustees to receive "reasonable compensation" for their services. What's deemed reasonable often depends on the estate's size, the complexity of the tasks performed, and local standards. As a new trustee, it's crucial to understand how to approach compensation:


  1. Seek Legal Advice: Before determining your fee, consult with an estate planning attorney to understand what is considered reasonable in your area and for the specific tasks you're undertaking.


  1. Transparent Communication: Keep the lines of communication open with the beneficiaries by explaining your proposed compensation. This transparency can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.


  1. Obtain Consent: While not legally mandatory, securing consent from the beneficiaries for your compensation can avert future disputes. This might involve getting written approval or a formal sign-off on your fees.


Reflecting on Your Estate Planning

Serving as a trustee often illuminates the intricacies of estate management, highlighting the importance of having your affairs in order. If you haven't already, now is an opportune time to consider your estate planning. Establishing a living trust, for example, can ensure your assets are managed according to your wishes without the need for probate, providing peace of mind to you and your loved ones.


Where to Seek Help

The complexities of trust administration and estate planning are significant, but you don't have to navigate them alone. The Law Office of James Burns, based in Aliso Viejo, specializes in guiding individuals through the nuances of estate and trust management. James Burns and his team can provide the clarity and expertise needed to fulfill your responsibilities effectively and to embark on your estate planning journey.

To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact the Law Office of James Burns at 949-305-8642 or visit their website at Whether you're a neophyte to estate management or looking to secure your legacy, their professional guidance can streamline the process, ensuring you navigate your duties confidently and with the beneficiaries' best interests at heart.

About the Author

James Burns

Estate Planning, Asset Protection, Business and Real Estate Transactions, nutraceutical Law and franchising:


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