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C. Management of property

C. Disposition and ongoing management of property

The possibility of leaving assets outright to minor children may be the greatest disadvantage of the simple Will. Many simple Wills call for everything to go to the surviving spouse – which might be fine, IF there is a survivor. The potential problem is that most of these documents name the children as secondary beneficiaries, upon the death of the second parent, or in the event of a simultaneous death. If the parents die while the children are minors, a guardian must be appointed over the children’s inherited assets (and over the kids themselves), and this is a cumbersome form of property ownership. E.g., the law might require division of an asset, such as real estate, among the children, rather than holding it intact. Remember, too, that guardianship usually ends at age 18 and assets must then be distributed outright.

A Trust, on the other hand, might provide for distributions only at a later age, once more maturity and financial responsibility have been developed. Until then, almost unlimited flexibility can be achieved in the management of estate assets with a Trust. This flexibility is desirable in dealing appropriately with the unique abilities and opportunities (or disabilities or illness) of each child, without requiring rigid equality of spending over the years. This is the approach most parents take while alive. (This ongoing, discretionary power to “sprinkle” or “spray” money as needed can be useful, too, in providing income for a surviving spouse, while protecting the principal of the estate for your children from a previous marriage.)

BEWARE! But watch out if your Trustee might also a beneficiary!
E.g., Oldest daughter becomes Successor Trustee, after Dad becomes disabled. If the Trust gives the Trustee broad discretion to “sprinkle” income, ALL that income might be taxable to her, personally – even if she never actually “sprinkles” herself a dollar!

TIP: The Trustee should be specifically empowered to “assist” a child’s guardian, e.g., by adding a bedroom to the guardian’s house, or buying a bigger car. These are things that, obviously, benefit the guardian, in addition to the child. Therefore, without this authority, the Trustee might be uncertain about whether such reasonable expenditures were, in fact, permitted by the Trust document.

With a Will, in contrast to a Trust, the Executor’s management ends with his final report to the court, soon after completion of his legal duties. So, many simple Wills provide that when both parents are gone, everything is distributed outright, equally among the children. Never mind about their actual needs. With a Will, the way to be “fair” is usually to just be “equal,” because it is written in stone. Unfortunately, though, nobody can tell what the future might bring.

Probate court supervision over sales, investments and accounting after death can be reduced or eliminated if, at the time of death, assets are already held in a living Trust. This factor can save time and expense, too. Note that a testamentary Trust does not help you in this regard; probate court is Square One, since this kind of Trust is created in a Will. Only after probate of the Will does a testamentary Trust come into being, and it often must be registered under state law. Testamentary Trust transactions may be subject to court review.

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