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Charitable Trustees Beware

By July 31, 2013No Comments

Cycling to the office this morning, I passed a woman jogging while pushing a 3-wheeler stroller jogger with twins in it. My mind meandered as to how challenging it must be to care for twins and let’s not even talk about triplets! But I couldn’t help it…

triplets_sm_1024776_82179167Hope and Bill had triplets: Gray, Jay, and Faye. Bill couldn’t handle the stress of 3 terrible twosies, 3 tumbling toddlers, 3 precocious pre-teeners, and 3 hormonally tangled teenagers, so he divorced Hope when the triplets were 15 and went on a permanent excursion to chant in the Himalayas.

Hope, not one to be deterred, called on her siblings, Charity and Joy. All was going well until Hope suddenly became ill and, at the young age of 44, passed away, leaving 3 teenagers with no parent. Bill had never been heard from since he left with snowshoes in hand. However, Hope left a will and a trust, naming Charity as trustee and Joy as guardian. When Hope passed on, though she didn’t have a taxable estate at $4 million, she left a considerable amount to her children and her sisters: $1 million to each child and $500,000 to each sister.

After the trauma of losing their sole parent had waned to a manageable, moving forward, level, May, Faye, and Jay continued planning for college. Faye was especially excited because she had been accepted at her first choice for engineering.

Well, 3 years into her engineering program, Faye and a few other classmates decided to start a small technology company. Each classmate pledged $100,000.00 as seed money and each had the means to fulfill the pledge. So Faye phoned Charity, who was vacationing in the Cayman’s, told Charity about the new venture and asked for her pledge money. She knew that her mom had left enough for her in the trust at this stage – Hope had staggered mentoring provisions in each child’s trust – to more than meet the pledge and that Charity was to invest for the purpose of conservation and then growth. What Faye didn’t know, however, was that Charity was very charitable to herself, using not only Faye’s trust, but May’s and Jay’s as a source of charitable giving.

Charity told Faye that it would be a little difficult to come up with the $100,000.00 straight from Faye’s trust, but that she would borrow from May and Jay and help Faye meet the pledge. Faye, the oldest by 10 seconds, didn’t like what she heard and a heated argument ensued. It ended with Aunt Charity telling Faye to calm down or else she wouldn’t get anything because she had discretion over the distribution and there was nothing Faye could do. In fact, Charity decided to make the Cayman’s her home and wasn’t sure when she’d be returning to the states to give Faye the distribution.

But Charity was wrong; Faye had the law on her side and Charity was eventually extradited to the U.S., where she faced counts of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.

Faye and her classmates’ business boomed; she eventually coupled with a partner and had a child aptly named, Prudence.

The Prudent Investor Rule: A trustee administering a trust has a duty to invest and manage the trust as a prudent investor would considering the purposes, terms, distribution requirements, and other circumstances of the trust.

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