Bank trust departments, also referred to as corporate trustees, provide professional management to the administration of California trusts. People may choose to name a bank to act as successor trustee when they can no longer manage their own assets, either because they don’t have family members they can count on to handle assets or because they don’t want to burden family members with the role. Sometimes family members or a court may appoint a bank to take the place of an acting trustee as a means to resolve disharmony amongst the parties.
Alysia Corell joins us here to share her experiences as a trust officer. Alysia grew up in the Mt. Shasta area of Northern California and traveled south to attend San Diego State University where she majored in communications. She began to work in a bank trust department in 2003 and became a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor in 2008. She is a past president and current member of the Sacramento Estate Planning Council and a member of the South Placer Estate Planning Council. In 2018 Alysia joined the trust department of Exchange Bank.
Exchange Bank, founded in 1890 and headquartered in Santa Rosa, has over $1 billion in assets under administration and provides trust and investment management services throughout California and beyond. As a Vice President and Personal Trust Officer, Alysia provides trust administration services across the Sacramento Metropolitan Area from the Bank’s office in Roseville.
What do you most enjoy about being a trust officer?
I find my job continuously fascinating. I don’t think most people realize how involved a trustee becomes in their clients’ lives. My favorite part of the job, without question, is developing relationships with clients and helping fulfill their financial goals. Corporate trustees are often brought in at a time when emotions are high, whether due to the death or incapacity of a loved one or as a result of conflict between family members. I find great fulfillment in helping families navigate through these trying times.
The job of a trust officer is so much more than managing financial assets. Each situation is completely unique based on family dynamics, asset composition and estate planning goals. In our business, there is no telling what each day may bring. One day may be spent helping a trustor’s grandchild develop a budget for the first time, another day researching mineral rights. I love having the opportunity to solve problems, while helping families along the way.
How has COVID-19 impacted your clients and your work?
Like the rest of the world, I have had adapt to client meetings via video conference or telephone. I have several clients in California senior living facilities which have been under quarantine since March. In addition to anxiety about the health aspects of COVID-19, clients are worried about the economic impact.
I’ve been checking in with clients more frequently to talk through their concerns. It’s a good time to remind clients of the benefits of having a corporate trustee, including stability and professional investment management. It’s definitely not business as usual, but I hope that we can comfort our clients during this time.
One potential concern about selecting a bank to serve as trustee is expense – what’s your take?
I may be biased, but I think trust departments are a great bargain. At Exchange Bank, we charge a single bundled fee for our services that include professional investment management, accounting to beneficiaries, tax preparation oversight, assistance with bill paying, and more. When an individual serves as trustee, these services are often outsourced to various professionals, which may result in higher total charges to the trust.
There are many ways in which a bank trust department can be helpful to beneficiaries. A corporate trustee serves as an impartial third party which helps to neutralize conflict amongst family members. Our knowledge of fiduciary investing and administrative regulations, coupled with the fact that we are regulated by state and federal agencies, help to ensure that the job is done correctly so as to reduce the chance of litigation. Another benefit is that we have a team servicing each trust, so if one person is sick or on vacation, the work can continue without disruption to our clients.
In addition to serving as sole successor trustee, what roles might a bank take on to help people manage trusts?
Often times a family member or friend will feel a strong obligation to fulfill the duty of serving as trustee, but they do not have the expertise or time to handle the day-to-day duties. We can help by serving as co-trustee or investment manager for an individual trustee, in which case we provide fiduciary investment management and assist with the administrative duties, with approval and oversight by the individual trustee.
Can you give me examples where you as a trust officer have helped smooth out family conflicts?
A few years ago, I met with a gentleman who was serving as trustee of a trust, established by his parents, for the benefit of his younger brother. The brothers were involved in a constant battle over distributions from the trust and their relationship had eroded to the point that they would only speak through their attorneys. Despite having the best intentions, their parents did not foresee the damage to the brothers’ relationship by naming one as trustee. The bank was able to step in as trustee and relieve the elder brother of this duty. A few months later, I received a call from that brother who was happy to report that without the tension related to the management of the trust, he and his brother finally had a relationship again.
On another occasion, I was tasked with distributing the personal property of a decedent among her fourteen nieces and nephews. The decedent had several pieces of valuable art and furniture and a dispute regarding the distribution was well underway before I became involved. The morning before we were to make distributions, I was greeted with at least a hundred emails from the beneficiaries. By developing a fair and impartial plan to distribute the assets, we were able to implement a distribution plan acceptable to everyone. Without a neutral third party overseeing the distribution, I believe those beneficiaries would still be fighting over the personal property.
You have two kids. How do you describe your job to them?
Like everyone else, my kids are puzzled by what a trust officer does for a living. The simplest description I can give them is that I help families with their financial goals, but in actuality the role involves much more. After a recent conversation with my 7-year-old about a day spent inventorying a client’s personal property and meeting with realtors to coordinate the sale of their home, he looked confused and said, “But I thought you worked at a bank?”
Jeffrey Galvin is an attorney with Downey Brand LLP, based in Sacramento. He litigates trust and estate cases in Northern California, including disputes involving trust and probate administration, contests of trusts and wills, and financial elder abuse claims.