Alan D. Feller, Esq.
Thanksgiving Family time – Annual Fiduciary Re-Evaluation
With Covid loosening its grip and families resuming their normal holiday schedules, it is time once again to trumpet the arrival of Annual Fiduciary Re-Evaluation Day, also known as Thanksgiving. While Santa has proven his bonafides as an arbiter of a person’s naughtiness or niceness, a certain turkey holiday has become the proving ground for the reliability of one’s fiduciaries. Just to refresh, your fiduciaries include your agent under a Power of Attorney, your Executor and your Trustee. These people will be making financial decisions concerning your assets while you are alive or after you have passed away. Their fitness to serve, loyalty and good sense must be evaluated to ensure that your planning meets your expectations.
Officially, I want everyone to enjoy their Thanksgiving. The fourth Thursday in November is a special day full of delicious food and wonderful company. Unofficially, if Cousin Mike takes an extra piece of turkey, I am not saying there is a problem, but you have to wonder. Though non-equitable turkey and stuffing portions are troubling, other warning signs may impact your fiduciary choices. Document creators who choose fiduciaries from the same generation may run into issues as both individuals age and deal with illness and decline simultaneously. Thanksgiving often brings together family members who do not see each other regularly. As a snapshot in time, it allows you to compare and contrast your loved one’s health and well-being with remembrances from previous years. Adding a successor or alternate agent, executor and trustee from a younger generation makes sense to guard against a lack of capable fiduciaries.
Aging is a certainty. Family upheaval may be anticipated, but its onset is still unsettling. Holidays present new family realities. The residual effects of divorce, child estrangement, and sibling fights not only diminish attendance, they alter fundamental family relationships. Brothers who were not particularly close, may pull closer following one’s divorce. The super competent adult child who handled everything may be experiencing difficulties which may limit their future effectiveness. Recalibrating an estate plan may appear to be an afterthought in the face of seismic family changes, but asset protection with intelligent planning avoids worse outcomes.
Family holidays also offer glimpses of seldom seen relationships. Subtle interactions between family members who rarely interact may hint at future problems. Sarcasm, defensiveness, silence, and uncomfortable body language are all indicators of trouble. Of course, not every shrug is a level 10 emergency, but if you search your memory bank you can piece together details which foreshadowed conflict. Fiduciaries are intimately involved with family finances and if an underlying relationship is rocky, money will add more stones.
Hopefully, by the time the pumpkin pie and ice cream cake are ready to be served and the coffee is brewing Annual Fiduciary Re-Evaluation Day can be quietly converted to post-Thanksgiving meal football watching. The goal is not to make the other guests uncomfortable. You simply want to ascertain the status of the people you are entrusting with your life savings. Staring and note taking is not encouraged.