Estate planning for parents: should the guardian and the trustee be the same person

My husband and I just had a baby and are doing our first will. Should the trustee and the guardian we choose for our son be the same person?

The guardian typically chooses with whom the child lives—usually choosing him/herself—while the trustee handles the money from the parents’ estate, according to their instructions.

“I talk with parents about potential risks and benefits of having the same person as both guardian and trustee,” said attorney Greg Bonney. “One of the issues we discuss is the burden that the guardian has in helping children cope with their parents’ deaths and whether it’s wise to saddle this person with the finances, too.”

Another consideration concerns the guardian’s strengths. You may choose a guardian based on great nurturing skills, despite this person not being a good money manager. In that case, it may be wise to have someone else making the financial decisions,” Bonney said.

On the other hand, noted Bonney, having two different people brings potential for conflict in how funds are distributed.

“The guardian may feel a need to add on to the house or buy a new van to accommodate the additional child or children,” he said. “That could be stressful if the trustee does not agree.”
The trustee may or may not interpret the changes in the house or the new van as providing a benefit to the children.

“In my experience, trustees are really good about sitting down with the guardians and talking about their decisions,” said Bonney. “I haven’t seen a lot of conflicts.”


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