One of the most challenging aspects of estate planning is visualizing what things will be like when you're no longer there. To make sure your loved ones will be protected if you die, you first have to realize exactly what you do for them currently. Your loved ones depend on you for emotional and financial support. And although they'd never be able to replace you, your family members can at least try to find other ways of getting the work you used to do for them accomplished.

One way you can protect your family is to set up a trust for their benefit. You can leave detailed instructions in your trust that express your wishes for how your money should be spent. But you will also need to name a trustee who is willing and able to carry out your instructions and manage the trust for the benefit of your surviving family members. Choosing a trustee is difficult, but making the right choice is vital to the success of your estate plan.

A job for Uncle Bob?
The first idea that many people consider is to name a family member to take control of the family finances. Doing so does have a number of benefits. Perhaps most importantly, fellow family members are most likely to know and share your systems of morality and values. When you leave instructions for them, they will understand not only your words but also the subtle layers of meaning behind those words. Furthermore, your loved ones may well feel more comfortable having a family member handling their financial matters, rather than opening up their financial lives to an outsider. Often, family members are willing to perform these duties as part of their familial obligation and will take little or no compensation for the work that they do. This can save the trust substantial amounts of money that might otherwise go toward trustee expenses.

However, using a family member also has its drawbacks. Being a successful trustee requires a unique mix of empathy, emotional understanding of the family, and expertise in handling financial affairs. It's a rare thing to find this combination of traits in someone who doesn't work professionally in the trust industry. In addition, while family members may have the best of intentions, your loved ones may not feel entirely comfortable with the level of control your chosen trustee will have over their financial lives. The potential conflict can do large amounts of damage in an already tragic situation.

You can bank on it
Because of these concerns, you may want to consider alternatives to having a family member act as your trustee. Many large banks, such as JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), will manage trusts for wealthy individuals, and smaller local and regional banks often provide these services for others as well. In addition, private trust companies are available in most locations; these institutions focus primarily on trust and wealth management rather than providing the diverse set of financial services that banks offer.

Using a professional trustee has a number of positive aspects. Unlike a family member, who may face a steep learning curve at a time when grief makes it difficult to concentrate on handling financial matters, a professional trustee already has the expertise to hit the ground running and get things done quickly and efficiently. Good trust officers not only provide advice on financial matters but also offer emotional support to their clients; in some cases, a good trust officer almost becomes part of the family.

Because professional trustees are generally subject to government regulation at both the federal and state levels, you can be confident that they will perform their jobs properly. In the event that the trustee does make a mistake, however, large institutions have the resources behind them to correct any problems and reimburse families for any resulting harm to trust assets.

On the other hand, using professional trustees also has some negative aspects. Because professional trustees have policies and procedures they must follow, family members often believe they have no control over their finances. Specifically, some requests for trust distributions that a family trustee would approve in a heartbeat require a longer process for approval that may cause uncomfortable delays.

Similarly, professional trustees prefer handling investments in a manner consistent with generally conservative financial practices, and so the portfolio you've worked hard to create and grow may be liquidated and replaced with other investments if your portfolio doesn't meet a particular professional trustee's standards. Of course, this is less of a problem if you invest in blue-chip stocks such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) or Verizon (NYSE:VZ) than if you own more aggressive, less-known stocks such as Titan International (NYSE:TWI) or Mocon (NASDAQ:MOCO).

Finally, professional trustees charge fees that are often substantial. A typical fee can run between 1% and 2% of trust assets annually, and that often doesn't include the additional costs of using mutual funds and other investment vehicles that carry their own expenses. These expenses can eat into the income generated for your family's financial needs, so it's important for you to be sure that your family will get its money's worth from a professional trustee.

Choosing a trustee to manage your financial affairs after you're gone is a difficult thing. However, it's something you have to do if you want to be sure that your loved ones will continue to get the care and attention that you provided for them.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has worked on both sides of the institutional trustee fence. He doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy manages itself.