Wishing. Hoping. Wanting. These words convey suggestions, but not direct orders: they are precatory, and therefore not generally useful in official estate planning documents like wills or trusts, which demand absolute clarity. Nonetheless, attorneys note that precatory language, carefully used, can play a role in estate planning.
The Right Words
Since the main purpose of estate planning is to leave affairs and assets as well organized for loved ones as possible, the use of unclear language, as attorney Allison Lee points out, is generally a no-no: “Language in an estate plan should be clear, direct and unambiguous. Using unclear or “wishy-washy” language can lead to confusion, long-standing arguments between beneficiaries and a longer and more expensive probate process — especially if court intervention is needed to help resolve disputes and ascertain your intent.” However, precatory language, used appropriately, can be a good way to arm the fiduciaries ultimately charged with overseeing affairs with insights into our hopes and intentions. For example:
If you have named three or more co-trustees, you may have instructed that they act by majority consent in order to streamline the decision-making process. You can express a desire to see your trustees work through decisions in a constructive and collaborative manner — even if their final decisions are not made by unanimous agreement. For example, say you name your children as co-trustees in your plan. By giving them each an equal platform to have their voice heard, a child who is ultimately overruled by their siblings is less likely to feel brushed aside in the decision-making. Your gentle recommendation can be essential to preserving the bond between siblings and keeping the co-trustee relationship healthy and productive, despite inevitable disagreements that can arise in the course of settling your affairs.
Although it is common for families to appoint children, other relations or close friends to serve as trustees, doing so is by no means a must. It is possible to appoint a professional trustee and naming a neutral, experienced trustee can be helpful. Afterall, during grief, the stress of administering a trust can become too much for relations. If conflict or other stressful circumstances are anticipated, professional trustees can really come in handy, and as Lee explains in Kiplinger, it is possible to arm a professional trustee with “guideposts” for making decisions through the use of precatory phrasing:
A common trust arrangement is to give an independent trustee the authority to make distribution decisions to beneficiaries at their sole discretion. Unlike the once common…HEMS (health, education, maintenance and support) standard, this design gives the trustee the most flexibility to ensure that the beneficiaries’ needs are met to the extent deemed appropriate. However, you may have certain factors you’d prefer the trustee consider…such as if the beneficiary has ample funds apart from the trust funds or if the particular need at stake is one that would likely have been supported were you still alive. This could be a need related to the purchase of a first residence versus embarking on a risky business venture. Giving your trustee some guidance (“I encourage my trustee in the exercise of their discretion to consider requests related to educational pursuits”) can help them make decisions….
When working with an attorney to transfer assets into a trust, it is always important to create a detailed trust agreement. Assets placed in a trust do not go through the public probate process so ensuring the trustee understands how they are to be used is vital. Trustee bonds are another important way to safeguard the interests of all beneficiaries. Essentially, a trustee bond is a type of fiduciary bond that guarantees that the trust will be administered in accordance with the agreement—and the law. Colonial Surety makes it quick and easy to obtain a trustee bond online:
Interesting To Know
Effective estate planning is becoming ever more important, as the influential “baby boom” generation ages and prepares to transfer lots of money down the line. How much is “lots”? Kiplinger reports: “According to a recent FreeWill survey a meaningful number of people expect to consult a financial adviser upon inheriting as part of the ‘great wealth transfer,’ when Baby Boomers will pass on more than $70 trillion in wealth to younger generations.”
Trust Law? Need
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