It all started when my husband asked me for the key to our china cabinet. I was immediately suspicious of his motives since he never had anything to do with the china cabinet. That was my territory. When entertaining I use the dishes, glasses and other serve ware stored in the china cabinet. I asked him why he needed the key and he told me that he planned to give his younger sister the dishes he had held in trust for her from his mother’s estate. I got upset and told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t going to get that key. We had displayed and used that beautiful china for the better part of 15 years and I wasn’t about to part with it.
After I calmed down and started to consider the situation, I realized that my husband was right – it was time for him to give his sister her share of the dishes. To this day, I still wonder what got into me. We still had our share, well, my husband’s share of the dishes. I guess I had just gotten too attached to all of the dishes.
That experience helped me to realize the struggles a person trusted to hold property for another (known as a “ﬁduciary”) could encounter and the importance of choosing a trustworthy person as a ﬁduciary. Maybe a close relative is not the best choice just because they are a relative. When choosing a ﬁduciary you have to be certain about that person’s integrity and commitment to fulfilling your wishes. What would that person do if they were confronted with difficult financial, emotional, or physical issues?
Would they remain trustworthy or use your property to further their own agenda? It could be as simple as an emotional attachment to the property. I heard about a woman who was given jewelry to hold for her young nieces until they were 21 years old. However, the woman who was given the jewelry to hold thought she would use it in the meantime and formed an emotional attachment to it. When the time came, she could not part with the jewelry. The nieces didn’t receive the jewelry until the woman passed away. At that time they were over forty years old! Even some parents can’t resist dipping into a fund established for their own children.
If you don’t have the ideal candidate in your circle of family and friends to serve as your ﬁduciary, there are other options. You can appoint two people to serve together so that there are checks and balances. Of course there are institutions that offer ﬁduciary services and there are private professional ﬁduciaries. The important thing is to make sure you make an honest evaluation of the person(s) you are entrusting your treasures to and don’t limit your choices to just immediate family.
For the record, if I were the trustee for someone else’s property, I am absolutely sure that I would (like my husband did) cheerfully transfer the property to the intended beneﬁciary at the appropriate time.
© 2018 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.
(Marlene S. Cooper, a graduate of UCLA, has been an attorney for over 35 years. Her practice is focused entirely on estate planning, estate administration and probate. You may obtain further information at www. marlenecooperlaw.com, by e-mail at Marlene@MarleneCooperLaw. com, by phone at (626) 791-7530 or toll free at (866) 702-7600. The information in this article is of a general nature and not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this article).