Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Personal Representative vs. Trustee -- What is the difference?

Cpip is from Family Feud via YouTube -- claims to be outrageous answers.  View as you see fit....I skipped it, but love the image

If I were to create a top ten list of most frequently asked questions by clients, this one would rank in the top 5.  What is the difference between the personal representative and the trustee?  When working with clients I offer the following:

  • Personal representative -- that is the term we use here in Wisconsin, Hollywood and other states may use the word Executor.  Basically, the PR's job is to take the will to the court, notify creditors, pay final bills and taxes, and then distribute what remains of the estate (either according to the terms of the will or if no will, statutory requirements).  A PR's job usually runs 12-18 months;
  • Trustee -- is a person who is charge of a trust, which can be created during life or at death via a will.  A trustee's job is to invest or manage assets held in the trust (cash, investments, property, etc.), administer the trust (i.e. write checks to beneficiaries), and when the trust ends (all trusts must end) distribute according to the terms of the trust.  This job can be quite short if a trust calls for distribution upon the death of the grantor (the person who put assets into the trust) or last for decades depending on the terms of the trust.
Key differences between the two roles include:
  • PRs operate in the overview of a court, while trustees rarely fall subject to court review because a trust is designed to keep assets out of probate court;
  • PRs have less discretion than a trustee;
  • PRs usually finish the work in less than 2 years, while a trustee can operate for decades.
  • A PR is likely to sell off property, such as home and car, and the distribute those proceeds to the heirs.  In contrast, a home in a trust may be managed by a trustee over time.
And there you have it, my quick answer to what is the difference between a PR and a trustee.  Thanks for reading, and I'll be back with more thoughts on illness, death and taxes for the middle class.

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