We’re almost there. I saved this segment about becoming an expert for last, because it’s the good news, for a change.
Help is on the way! Let’s meet the team members who are there to help you to be a great fiduciary, or for you to set up to help, indeed maybe to be, your own. Then, we’ll surf some available information sources, too.
The working team
You probably know who some of them are. Indeed, you’ve met them in earlier columns. Here, though, they’re all presented in one place for your understanding and convenience.
If Loved One or you have an estate plan, or even part of one, then some already are on board via the planning process and likely are actively serving or are nominated in the documents. They can have roles in the testamentary will, trusts, business purchase agreement, powers of attorney, medical directives or any of the other estate-planning instruments created during life.
By the way, while we’re thinking about them, are your long-standing nominees still desirable and available? Many spouse-fiduciaries die first, leaving a vacuum. Before they died, Dina and Henry’s attorney-personal representative was hauled back from his Canary Islands hideout and disbarred.
At death or decreed incompetence, the fiduciaries engage any team members that aren’t specified or nominated in the instruments and appointed by a court, as needed to do specialized tasks.
A person or a firm can serve in more than one fiduciary or team-member role. For example, often a knowledgeable family member already has a power of attorney or is a health-care agent. Or, he/she is an intervivos (during life) trustee, then becomes personal representative and/or continuing trustee, and continues to provide professional skills (such as tax law or accounting) and familiarity to the estate.
Some team members are fee-based professionals; others can be volunteers. In most cases, not all of the various specialties will be needed. The team should consist of the combination of members that best suits the case, whether the phase is planning, discovery and assembly, or administration.
Here are some possible team members:
▪ Personal representative(s): nominated in the will and appointed by the probate court when the will is probated. Or Administrator(s), appointed by the court in intestate (no valid will) cases. The team leader, having ultimate decision-making authority and responsibility for administration of the probate estate.
▪ Trustee(s) or various other labels if for a foundation: specified by the donor in trust documents, that deal with the person’s affairs. In charge of the trust, responsible to carry out its terms, having ultimate decision-making authority and responsibility for its administration.
▪ Guardian(s), custodian(s), conservator(s): court-appointed persons or firms to provide day-to-day care for a legally incapacitated person, and to manage and be responsible for his/her personal business.
▪ Attorney(s)-in-fact and/or health-care agent(s): The persons who had the responsibility and authority during the incapacitated or end-of-life person’s life, legal-document-appointed by the person before becoming incompetent, to transact his/her business and to make decisions. At time of decreed incompetence or death, passes the duties and responsibilities to the appropriate court-appointed or after-death fiduciaries. AIFs often also seamlessly become those postmortem fiduciaries, too.
▪ The estate’s attorney(s): engaged to handle the estate’s legal matters, if the attorney isn’t already the PR and/or trustee.
▪ The estate’s attorney’s specialized attorney(s): when needed and advisable, and engaged by the estate’s attorney, in cases where highly sophisticated, specialized expertise is needed, often in questions of taxation, evaluation, litigation, international commerce, securities and commercial real estate transactions, and in which the “stakes” are high. The same goes for the trusts’ and the business entities’ attorneys’ attorney.
▪ The person’s during-life attorney(s): the team-captain in the planning process, often already is the PR and/or trustee. I think that the attorney or law firm selected to create and to administer estate plans should be a well-recommended and experienced estate-work specialist, even if Cousin Bert practices law.
▪ The estate’s, trusts’, business’ accountants or CPAs: engaged to handle the complex and sophisticated financial detective work, accounting, and estate report and tax filings.
▪ The person’s during-life accountant or CPA: might also become the estate’s and/or the trust’s CPA. A major source of “discovery” information and data for the PR and trustee.
▪ Professional life and property insurance agents: ethically and morally responsible and motivated, and professionally qualified, to handle claims in their fields, including assisting the various attorneys and accountants with valuable and tax-wise structured settlements. Usually without compensation beyond the sales commissions and servicing fees they’ve already received. Often, the life insurance agent was the motivator who successfully got the planning process started in the first place, long before the client died or became incapacitated.
▪ Business associates, partners, key employees, even competitors.
▪ Joint venture and investment club buddies.
▪ Mortician: funeral director.
▪ Late-life caregivers, personal and professional.
▪ Spiritual adviser — clergy or not.
▪ Thanantologist: guidance in at-death coping, planning, managing.
▪ Financial planner or adviser: often a “heavyweight” in the planning phase, and a source of guidance and information for the estate.
▪ Investments specialist.
▪ Tax adviser: if other than the CPA, financial or legal professional.
▪ Advisory staff of the client’s long-term-care residential facility.
▪ Personal bankers.
▪ Wealth management or trust officers: professionals at the bank or credit union where the client did wealth management business.
▪ Employers, especially their human resources departments.
▪ Government agencies’ contact officers, service representatives.
▪ Health care insurers’ contact officers, service representatives.
▪ Professional, business and fraternal membership associations’ officers.
▪ Friends and family: but please remember the cautions about some volunteer helpers’ motivation, reliability and competence.
▪ Consulate agents of foreign governments.
Information and guidance resources
We are fortunate to live in the information age. In addition to the “discovery” and the “working team” resources discussed above:
Financial institutions and professional firms offer publications about the various phases of estate planning and administration that they deal with. Some are really detailed and helpful, but some tend to be infomercials dealing only narrowly with their sponsors’ specialties, and promoting their sponsors’ services.
Public libraries and commercial bookstores offer published “how-to” books. So do charitable foundations and affinity organizations (for example AARP). You’re wise to look out for jurisdictionally inapplicable and out-of-date information in all of these.
A great deal of information and guides to sources of information, some jurisdictionally valid and in up-to-date technical detail, are available on the Internet. Entire professional-specialty resource services and state-sponsored statute and procedural guide sites are there, although many commercial websites really are infomercials and even require you to work through their sponsor firms to access useful sources.
You can Google just about any combination of keywords on any subject that you want to research, including the topics that we dialogue about. You’re invited to e-mail me to access previous segments.
Many firms and institutions offer really informative seminars, most of them free of charge. To find them, ask your professional team members, look through their newsletters and look through community newspapers for their ads. These seminars largely are (understandably) marketing infomercials for their sponsors’ services, but most are highly professional and informative, and their welcome mat is genuine.
Please note these absolutely, irrefutable, applicable words of wisdom: Well-meaning publications, websites, helpers and family members can lead you wrong with outdated, jurisdictionally invalid, technically inapplicable information, and inapplicable, superficial generalizations. The guidance of the right professionals in matters that count so seriously in the profoundly serious business of estate planning, preparation and administration always should be the governing resource of choice.
And now … congratulations! You’re now a certified expert estate administrator. Please let me know how it feels.
Contact GARY NEWMAN at email@example.com. Your ideas and comments are always welcome.