Dear Liza: My mother recently died and I am the Trustee of her trust. She left everything to me and my brother, equally. I live far away from California, where she lived. My brother lives in her house. The bank told me that I need to get a tax identification number for my mother’s trust, is that true? Also, I’m worried that my brother is going to take her furniture and other things in the house before I have the chance to get there. I really don’t know where to start or how to get help. So, first things first. Yes, you DO need to get a tax identification number for your mother’s trust now that she’s died. That’s because now her trust is irrevocable, and, until you distribute the trust property to yourself and your brother, any income earned by the trust during this interim period needs to be reported under this new tax identification number, which is called an ‘EIN’ (employee identification number). You can apply for it online at this website. I’ve written about how to do this on Legal Consumer, which offers national probate information, organized by zip code–click on the article about how to get a tax id number.
Next, you, as Trustee, are responsible for gathering and protecting the trust’s assets until they are distributed to the beneficiaries. That’s the legal answer — but in real life, this can be tricky, especially when you are far away and you two are the only beneficiaries. I would advise seeing how cooperative your brother will be — after all, he benefits from having the house clean and sold for a good price. Ultimately, if he won’t cooperate and you can’t get him to move out, you should seek to have him removed by the local law enforcement authority, but I would hope it doesn’t come to that.
Finally, in terms of getting help, I’d advise you go find an estate planning attorney to advise you on your duties as Trustee. If there are trust assets other than that house, you can use trust money to pay for this advice, and it will be well worth it, since you have to do the job properly or risk personal liability. Nolo has a lawyer directory that should be helpful here.