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Mary Owens: Estate planning from the heart

Mary Owens

Last month I outlined my new series on estate planning. This is not going to be your typical lecture on why you should have a trust, a will and other related documents. There is plentiful information available on those types of topics.

Your estate planning attorney is the best place to seek advice on your specific legal documents. This series is going to focus on the “heart” issues.

Its purpose is to give you comprehensive insights on family, business and charitable items you should be considering when crafting your overall estate plan. We will be covering the types of issues that can keep you up at night wondering if you made the correct decisions.

I was a professional trustee for over 25 years. I was either chosen by individuals or a family to administer their estate, or I was appointed by the court system after an estate had suffered severe stresses and delays from a wide variety of causes.

I intend to share the lessons I learned from those experiences in the upcoming articles.

I will begin with the topic I get the most requests to address: What are issues I should be considering when picking a “successor trustee” for my estate?

This is going to the first article in a sub-series on successor trustees. There are so many items to consider and I am currently writing a book that covers this topic. I will be addressing the highlights of that book in the coming months.


There are two areas of required action by a successor trustee of your trust: the responsibilities of administrating your estate after you are deceased AND the responsibilities of administrating your estate when you are incapacitated but still alive. Both of these areas are important but require differing levels of work, knowledge and responsibilities.

I am going to start this discussion with the most common type of estate: you are older, have adult children, and have no complex assets such as operating businesses or rental properties.

If you have a relatively simple estate and a trusted adult child living close by who has the time available to provide care and estate administration, the patience needed for such tasks and the respect of your financial interests and your welfare, then the answer is fairly straight forward.

You are very blessed to be in such a secure position. Even if the person has limited financial skills, their respect of your financial well-being can be carried out by hiring a good Certified Public Accountant (CPA), bookkeeper or by consulting your financial advisor on setting up automatic bill pay if you are alive and incapacitated.

Getting advice regarding records to keep for taxes and other purposes is not a difficult task and can be handled by most professional advisors. Financial responsibilities of a simple estate are not overwhelming for most.

But there are those individuals who are superior care givers but blatantly poor financial administrators. Their hearts are frequently in the right place but their financial organization is lacking.

If you have anyone else available whether it is another child, a trusted friend, or an in-law who is better in this area, consider splitting the tasks between more than one person.

Have one child appointed to your “Advanced Health Care Directive” and/or Power of Attorney, who performs the day-to-day health care administration and another child who is either a successor trustee or successor co-trustee who handles the day-to-day financial administration.

The child (or other chosen person) who handles the financial affairs does not necessarily need to live close to you as long as your estate is not overly complex. With the internet and the ability to pay most bills electronically, most of these tasks can be handled with ease from a distance.

Respect & cooperation

The biggest consideration for ongoing confidence within your heart and household is the level of respect and cooperation between these two persons. Siblings that have had a lifelong rivalry are not good candidates. Siblings that have spouses with strong personalities and that do not respect the siblings of the spouses are even worse candidates.

I have learned over the years family dysfunction that is simmering under the surface has a way of displaying explosively poor behavior at the time you need their cooperation the most.

If a suitable person in your family is not available to handle the financial side of your affairs, consider having your trusted child hire a CPA or other qualified person to handle the financial transaction side of your affairs. This can help reduce your stress (if you are still alive) and the stress of your trusted child.

I have used the above example as a means of demonstrating the importance of careful forethought. Any well thought out estate plan has multiple objectives that should be considered.

Clearly the proper administration of the estate and the delivery of your care are primary considerations in all legal documents. But what I find to be frequently overlooked is the most common “heart” aspects of the planning processes.

If you have children that have a loving relationship with each other and you want their connection to remain intact after your death and during your lifetime, carefully consider the feelings of your children before you make your decision on successor trustees, Health Care Directives and Powers of Attorney documents.

I highly suggest that you discuss your thoughts with each trusted child privately prior to your appointments. Tensions between siblings and in-laws are frequently shielded from your view while you are well.

Avoid appointments, whenever possible, that may increase the tensions among family members. It is also important that each child be given the opportunity to discuss their concerns with you about their role in managing your affairs.

Talk to your children

I have seen children experience such stress about their future role in your affairs because they are feeling responsible for performing to your needs and satisfaction.

If they are experiencing this level of anxiety, meet with your professional team before you appoint them so the role can be explained in greater detail.

If they are still expressing stress over the role, devise a plan where back up professionals can step in to provide assistance in those areas of concern when needed or requested.

Appointments to key positions such as successor trustees, Health Care Directives and Powers of Attorney have dual requirements.

First, the functional process of making sure your needs are met and getting the job done properly.

Second, the ever important heart issues of the family and the respectful treatment of all involved.

It will be a difficult time for your children. They will be facing your death and a life without you. It is normal for them to experience stress and grief.

Discussing the issues with your trusted children will help them prepare for the road ahead. It will give you more confidence that your decisions were made in an environment of openness and frankness.

Next month I will be exploring the issues of a more complex estate and the use of professional trustees.

The concerns I will be covering could also apply to a simple estate that does not have good successor trustee options.

Mary Owens, CPA, MS, Principal, President of Investments, Branch Manager RJFS with Owens Estate and Wealth Strategies Group, located at 426 Sutton Way Suite 110 Grass Valley, CA 95945 | 530-272-7500. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Owens Estate and Wealth Strategies Group is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. The information provided does not purport to be a complete description of the developments referred to in this material, it has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Mary Owens and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.

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