estate planningtrustswills

Blood or Money? Making Fiduciary Designations that Maintain Family Harmony

By May 9, 2012No Comments
Dueling Uncles

Photo: R. Parzychowski, Plock, Poland

Tons of articles have been published advising individuals and couples about what to bring to or how to prepare for a meeting with your estate planning attorney. Most of these articles provide the typical list: financial statements, copies of tax returns, mortgage statements, retirement information, and so forth. Not surprisingly, few articles discuss the “hard list”: names of successor guardians for the children, names of successor trustees – particularly if the children have trusts, how special gifts will be distributed, and who should hold title to the home for asset protection purposes.

A previous post discussed guardians but another issue that couples may want to consider is how to maintain family accord for the children’s benefit when a member from one spouse’s side of the family may be emotionally closer to the children than a member from the other spouse’s side, but both families want to be involved in the event of an emergency. Under those circumstances, the harmonious decision to name Uncle Louie Guardian and Uncle Gus as Trustee, for example, may be not-so-harmonious.

Baby Gina’s and Big Brother Brett’s Uncle Louie on Mama’s side and Uncle Gus on Papa’s side may in fact have a great relationship. However, designating one guardian and the other trustee may place a strain on the relationship that would cause Robin to reconsider his relationship with Batman. Consequently, designating one person as both guardian and trustee would probably be more prudent. Plus, Uncle Gus might even appreciate it once you shared with him the critical and long list of duties a trustee must agree to undertake.

Still, what if Uncle Gus is a control freak and would wreak havoc on the rest of you and your spouse’s living days if some authority wasn’t given to him? In that case, you could make Uncle Gus the Executor of the estate. But what if that wasn’t enough? Perhaps he would be satisfied with being the successor trustee of the family trust funds that remained after the children’s trust was fully funded. And if Uncle Gus wasn’t satisfied with that and Uncle Louie refused to switch places? Then consider the following 2 options:

  1. Creating a solid co-trustee agreement between the 2 uncles; or
  2. Designate a corporate trustee to manage the children’s trust.

Sometimes to maintain family accord, retaining a reasonable corporate trustee is the only option. Yes, money leaves the estate but at least it’s money and not blood.

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