In my practice, sometimes I have to take on the role of a counselor to address issues that are not necessarily legal in nature but require someone to assess the situation and give advice.
I recently met with a prospective client who came to my office physically agitated and tearful. She explained that she had been designated as the successor trustee of her father’s living trust but, sadly, right after the funeral she suffered untold hurt and stress. Her siblings, being money hungry, started accusing her of unfairness and challenging her authority. The father left many piles of paperwork and she thought it would take her weeks, if not months, to sort through it all to ﬁnd his important papers to determine what exactly he owned and where to ﬁnd it. Her father’s house was also being threatened with foreclosure. The woman felt she was going to go insane trying to balance the issues related to her father’s estate, her demanding full-time job, the needs of her husband and two small children, all the while grieving the loss of her father. Of course, she felt that she had absolutely no time to enjoy a “quality of life” for herself and thought the stress of everything might jeopardize her health.
After I heard the story, which I have heard several times before, I explained to the prospective client that just because someone designates you as a successor trustee of their living trust or the executor of their will, you don’t have to accept the responsibility. Legally, you can just say no! Most estate plans make provisions for both a ﬁrst and second choice. If she declined to take the job, the job just moves to the next person on the list. She can let that person take on the responsibilities and liabilities. If there is no one designated in the trust to step in, the Court can designate a professional. That may be a costly alternative, but it could be the best solution.
The client explained that she felt her father nominated her because he trusted her and knew she would do a good job winding up his affairs. I acknowledged that fact but told her that he probably wouldn’t want her stressed, overwhelmed and unhappy in the process. While it is not an easy choice to make, in the ﬁnal analysis sometimes a person has to be selﬁsh and just say “no” under circumstances such as these.
© 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).