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Choice of trustee, transparency important in estate planning

Sometimes, it may seem like Quincy residents are doing everything right in setting up and protecting one’s estate for the benefit of one’s heirs. One may expect that a certain level of trust among family and community members will carry on after one has passed away. But if those relationships turn sour, will the estate plan hold up?

A recent article discussed the story of a southern family with a father who made a great deal of money in the ophthalmology business and went to great lengths to protect his assets via irrevocable trusts and similar entities.

After his death in 1989, his wife and three children were apparently well cared for thanks to their father’s estate planning and the small-town relationships where the bankers, the insurers, the lawyers and the accountants all knew the family as well as each other. However, after a number of years, one of the siblings married a man who began taking a closer look at the financial arrangements in place.

The new husband soon became suspicious that his wife was paying too much in legal fees related to the estate. He claimed to find errors in account information and became concerned about some financial decisions. Eventually, he felt that there must be additional assets that were hidden from the siblings. This set them against another sibling, who was a trustee of the estate. The estate planning was complicated and the three siblings grew deeply divided over disagreements and opposing interpretations. Legal battles continue to this day.

Sometimes it’s not enough to leave a large estate well-protected for one’s heirs. Of great importance are both the choice of trustee, and transparency, regarding the estate plan and the assets within it. Family members are common choices for trustees, but they may not fully understand what may be in store for them. Working closely with a legal professional alongside one’s appointed trustee or trustees and heirs is recommended to help keep an estate plan from unraveling over questions and disputes down the road.

Source: The New York Times, “Are Millions Missing? Some Relatives Want to Know. Others Don’t,” Paul Sullivan, March 22, 2018

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