In the world of estate planning, it’s never quite as simple as “fair is fair.” After all, not everyone assesses value on the same terms, and the needs of those involved are never uniform. If multiple children are involved in the distribution of your estate, the delicacy of determining what is fair is even more challenging. After all, adult children often revert to juvenile behavior in reaction to their parents’ estate plan, especially in the emotional aftermath of an important loss.
While we can’t say what is fair for you and your beneficiaries, we can offer some helpful estate planning advice to guide you through the process of making some difficult decisions…
How to choose a child to manage your affairs
Choosing who will manage your estate is difficult. Children are apt to assign sentimental significance to this decision, perhaps seeing their own insecurities as confirmed if they are not chosen. While a workaround is to elect several adult children as successor co-trustees, doing so can provoke unwanted conflict with long-lasting consequences. In such cases, it is far from unheard of for disagreements to lead to bitter court battles, the emotional costs of which far outweigh the financial value of the estate.
So, should someone else serve?
In order to avoid choosing one child over another, some parents turn to a friend or outside family member to manage the estate. This approach works well if the trusted person has financial or legal expertise and trust administration experience. However, it is difficult to be sure the chosen person will act fairly and without bias. After all, anyone close enough to be considered for the role is also likely close enough to the family that they will have their own partial outlooks.
Is a professional, impartial trustee the best route?
If your estate is of considerable size, turning to an institutional trustee—such as a bank or trust company—might be a good option. At a cost, you can be sure your assets will be distributed in an impartial manner, but you run the risk of having delicate decisions handled inflexibly. After all, a bank is unlikely to consider the individual needs of beneficiaries with the same compassion as a family member or friend.
The bottom line: choose results over what’s “fair”
At the end of the day, any route you choose comes with pitfalls. Your best defense is to furnish your estate with clear instructions for expeditious administration, leaving the most assets as possible to your beneficiaries. A child will almost always be the least costly trustee choice, and it’s absolutely fair to ask the person who you think will do the best job to serve as your trustee. Be sure to involve your estate planning attorney and long-term advisors in the decision-making process, and communicate your reasoning to other children to minimize any hard feelings. If you are left with any worries, you might use a trust protector to safeguard the interests of all beneficiaries. While not responsible for administering the estate, a trust protector provides a safety valve for specific actions.
Remember that, like all financial decisions, choosing who will manage your estate is a decision best made on practical grounds and with an eye on outcomes.