Stan's World - Who do you trust?

Stanley F. Ehrlich |

Older clients may recall a late 1950s/early 1960s TV show titled; “Who do you trust?” The show host – a task handled by Johnny Carson for a few years - would ask a husband and wife a question. The husband and wife would then decide who among them they trust to answer the question.

Fast forward to 2023, and ask yourself the same question: “Who do you trust?” Except in this instance, the reference is to your money and your wishes. Who would you trust to ensure your assets will either be spent appropriately on your personal care if you’re unable to make those decisions or in accordance with your wishes after you pass?

Most people answer the question by saying they’ll figure it out when the time comes. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t assume you’ll have ample opportunity to do that. Dementia, or serious illness, doesn’t conform to a pre-determined timeline. The answer to the question: “Who do you trust?” requires careful thought and consideration long before you might need assistance. It’s imperative that you make these types of decisions when you’re able to do so, thus giving you the appropriate amount of time to implement them. 

We’ve previously written about a few significant legal documents where your decisions can be chronicled. A durable power of attorney (DPOA), for example, allows you to appoint a trusted individual to take all actions on financial matters on your behalf. The power of a DPOA is significant because the powers within the document can be sweeping. In brief, it gives your appointee the ability to do anything with your assets that you can do. Choose your designee wisely.

Similarly, you have the power to appoint an executor of a will (or where appropriate, a trustee of a trust).  The goal, of course, is for your appointed individual to understand your wishes and to implement them.

There is, of course, the potential for your designated individual to disagree with your intentions.  The trustee of a trust, for example, may view your decisions as ‘controlling from the grave’ and deem them inappropriate. Or, that individual may believe that a beneficiary requires more financial assistance than you may have deemed necessary. When you’re gone or unable to make those types of decisions, someone has to make them for you. Once again, choose your appointee wisely.

Most people assume that they should place their trust in the hands of a relative, like an adult child. While that may apply to many, it’s not appropriate for all. In some instances, families are split along various fault lines. Selecting one individual to make decisions for others, or for you on behalf of others, may only make matters worse. A trusted friend or confidant might be the better option in those instances.

In addition to having all necessary legal documents current, it might make sense to consider drafting letters to be read with their wills or even when a DPOA has to be implemented. A well-crafted letter will explain why you didn’t appoint so and so as your executor and why you selected someone else. While there may be hurt feelings, what’s most important is that your wishes be fulfilled.

Consider asking the person you would like to select if they will accept the responsibilities being conferred upon them. It’s both an honor and a burden to be asked to ‘serve,’ so allow him/her to ponder your request. Not everyone can manage the required tasks or withstand the pressures imposed upon them by family members.

Finally, all these steps should be taken with the assistance of an attorney, preferably one who focuses specifically on estate planning.  These individuals have extensive experience in the issues outlined above that they can draw on to help you navigate the document drafting process.

These are tough decisions. If you have multiple children, for example, you may decide one would be a better executor than another. While a letter would help to explain that, it doesn’t make your decision any less stressful. Ultimately, choose the person who will best act on your behalf. Your last wishes are yours and yours alone. 





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