When creating a trust, there are a number of important considerations and decisions to be made. “Who do I put in charge as trustee?” is certainly one of them. During your lifetime, you would typically serve as the trustee of your own trust—so this question really focuses on who would serve as trustee when you are gone. In order to select the right person, it is important to understand the role of a trustee—which can best be summarized under two main heads. First, the trustee will make investment-type decisions relating to trust assets. For any period in which money or property is being held in the trust, someone has to decide how it is to be held or invested. This important responsibility belongs to the trustee. Second, the trustee will be responsible for making decisions relating to the actual distribution of trust assets. The trust agreement should provide clear directions, parameters and instructions relating to distribution but the trustee will still be the one actually holding authority to carry out those directions—and many times, there is some degree of discretion as well. Undoubtedly, selection of a capable trustee is a central consideration to an effective estate plan.
Within the last few weeks, Missouri’s governor issued Executive Order 20-08 authorizing notarization and witnessing of document signing by video conference. This is a stark (although likely temporary) break from the traditional requirement that a notary and witnesses be physically present with the individual signing documents. So what does this mean? Estate planning can be done by video conference. Meetings between attorney and client can of course be carried out by video conference (or phone) and now the signing of the documents, which has always required an in-person office meeting, can be accomplished by video. There is not a better (or easier!) time to consider a Will, Trust, Power of Attorney and similar documents. We offer free initial consultations (video, phone), all fixed fees (no surprise hourly bills) and seamless video completion of all documents.
Estate planning has never been easier. A recent special executive order from Missouri’s governor has authorized online notarization and witnessing of important legal documents. This new legal change, coupled with readily accessible video conferencing in each stage of the process, makes getting in place a Will, Trust, Power of Attorney and/or Health Care Directive easier than it’s ever been. The entire process can now take place by video conference or phone call with no need to make an office visit. Estate planning is critically important for individuals and families as they plan for their finances and the well-being of their family amidst life’s uncertainties. Now, it’s also pretty darn easy.
We are in unique and challenging times. We are social distancing, staying at home and adjusting to abnormal working and personal conditions. As we do our best to stay healthy and help keep others healthy, many people are also giving renewed consideration to having a proper estate planning in place. Indeed, a Will, General Power of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directive and Health Care Power of Attorney (and in many cases, a Revocable Trust) are important to have in place. These documents plan for circumstances of incapacity or death and are important in any environment—but for many, these feel a bit more pressing right now. Fortunately, estate planning can be done quick and seamlessly during this time. In fact, in many instances, we can prepare and even have signed all documents without you needing to leave your home. Video conferencing and electronic notarization (recently authorized by executive order in Missouri) offer reliable and legally enforceable methods to get the right documents in place while staying healthy and comfortable. We offer free initial consultations by phone (and by video conference) and are committed to expedite estate planning documents to ensure your peace of mind and legal protection.
A trust can be an important tool in estate planning. Avoiding probate, providing for young beneficiaries, addressing unique situations and providing added peace of mind are important virtues and have led to the frequent use of trusts in estate planning for people in various circumstances. So, what is a trustee of a trust? And who serves as trustee? The trustee is essentially the “manager” of the trust. While directed by the language of the written trust agreement (and applicable statutes), the trustee generally has discretion in making investments, managing trust assets and (within set parameters) providing resources to the beneficiaries of the trust. When someone creates a trust, they frequently would serve as their own trustee while they are alive and well. But at some point, that trust creator dies (or could become mentally unable to serve as trustee). So, who serves as trustee next? That depends on who you appoint! The written trust agreement should provide detailed direction about who should serves as a successor trustee (and ideally includes several successors / back-ups). This could be an individual (friend, family member) or could be a professional trust company. A successor trustee would need to accept that role before serving—a fact that underscores the need to name at least a few backups. However, if all named trustees decline to serve, have passed away or are otherwise unable to serve, a court could also appoint a successor trustee.
Most of my clients begin our initial meeting by telling me how long they have been putting off estate planning. They were never sure where to start, they were unsure of the fees, they did not know what lawyer to work with, they were worried it would all be so complicated, etc., etc. Fortunately, the process can be straightforward, painless and comfortable (and affordable!). When working with any individual or family, I work hard to make the process of preparing a Will or Trust understandable and straightforward as well as thorough and comprehensive. This generally begins with an open-ended first meeting where you can ask questions and I can better understand your goals and expectations. There is never a fee for this meeting. If we proceed, I work hard to carefully understand your needs and talk about potential approaches in plain English. This process usually ends up including a Will (and often a Trust) as well as a General Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directive. Of course, every situation differs and I take great efforts to understand the unique nature of every family and every individual. In the end, preparing an effective and thorough estate plan does not need to be complicated.
Simplicity and thoroughness are always the most important considerations when considering needed changes to estate planning documents. Where possible, an amendment to an existing document may be the simplest way to make needed changes—which is often the case for a Will or Trust. Other times, a new document is the best approach—which is quite frequently the case for power of attorney documents. When meeting with a client that needs a change to their estate planning documents (due to life changes, family changes, changed goals, etc.), my commitment is always to implement changes efficiently and in the most cost-effective manner. Of course, being thorough and accurate are also central priorities. In the end, a careful review of existing documents and a thorough understanding of needed changes provide the framework for how best to revise an estate plan.
A beneficiary deed transfers real estate to a named beneficiary upon the death of the property owner. In other words, when a property owner dies, their real estate can go to a desired family member (or someone else) without going through probate. A beneficiary deed can be a particularly desirable tool because it is relatively inexpensive to put in place, it feels “simple” and it does not need to be connected to a Will or Trust. While every situation varies, preparing and recording a beneficiary deed often makes the most sense when real estate is the main asset owned or when there is only one intended beneficiary. Of course, there are instances where a beneficiary deed is not advisable. Often, this might be in a situation with numerous intended beneficiaries or where the property owner ultimately desires the property to simply be sold.
A Will is one of the most basic elements of estate planning. In a word, yes—you do indeed need a Will. Good estate planning often involves much more than that (think powers of attorney, beneficiary designations, perhaps a living trust) but a Will is nearly always a basic and central part of an effective estate plan. A Will directs where your property goes when you die—while also including administrative designations, procedural directions and other important legal provisions. Additionally, for a parent of a minor child, a Will typically includes a nomination of someone to serve as a successor guardian. Of course, every situation is different and every person is different—and every estate plan is different. However, in nearly every instance, you do need a Will.
When you create a trust, you typically name yourself (or perhaps you and your spouse) as the trustee(s) of your trust. The trustee manages the trust assets and makes determinations about investments and distributions. Of course, when you pass away, you will no longer be the trustee of your trust. So, who manages trust assets? Who makes determination regarding investments and distributions? A well-drafted trust agreement will provide detail and direction on these fronts, but someone must still be in charge (the trustee). When determining who to nominate for this central role, the following characteristics are important to consider:
Financial Competence. Skill at managing trust assets, keeping accurate records and properly handling finances will go a long way toward smooth and proper trust administration.
Strong Communication. The trustee will be interacting with beneficiaries. A strong ability to be clear, friendly and accurate is important.
Local. All things the same, a trustee based locally is generally better than one located out of town. Of course, this can vary depending on individual circumstances.
Familiarity. Familiarity with your goals and wishes can be helpful in situations where the trustee has some discretion in distributions.
The selection of the right trustee can make a major difference in the smooth and competent administration of a trust. While there is no perfect formula for selecting the right person (or trust company), ample consideration given to these qualities can be a good starting point.