Abby Wool Landon, Attorney at Law
Zenora Burris, Estate Planning Paralegal
Would you ever pay a renowned architect thousands of dollars to draw up plans for your custom home, then pass their expensive drawings off to your builder to tackle the rest of the project alone? Probably not.
Some people who are “building” a new home buy prepackaged builder’s plans. Others may want to work with an architect to modify those plans or create an entire set of customized plans. Think of Wool Landon as the estate planning firm to hire if you want a customized estate plan for your legacy. We don’t use planning software developed by a third-party company. For most of our clients, we think that just like a building site needs the right project managers, the trust we “draw up” for you needs the right trustee and a trust protector.
Without a trust protector, your legacy plan isn’t as flexible as the ones we create at Wool Landon. A trust protector is someone whose job it is to protect the terms of a trust from misinterpretation and protect the trust estate and its beneficiaries from the actions of a bad acting, negligent or incompetent trustee. Wool Landon promotes the benefits of appointing and utilizing a trust protector in your legacy plan.
Naming an objective, knowledgeable trust protector is a smart and cost-saving move. Years ago, when I first started including trust protector appointments and powers in my documents, I asked my clients to pick someone who doesn’t stand to benefit from the trust to serve as the trust protector. As my practice grew to include more long-term lifetime trusts, one corporate trustee I worked with regularly suggested I give my clients the opportunity to appoint me or one of our lawyers as the trust protector. Since then, we have agreed to serve as trust protector for many clients.
Your trust protector never invests assets of a trust or makes distributions to a trust’s beneficiaries. Instead, your trust protector is granted certain limited powers. In the hands of your knowledgeable lawyer, trust protector powers help protect your legacy and avoid controversies.
One power Wool Landon recommends is to give the trust protector the ability to replace the serving trustee. The trust protector can be asked to intervene if there is any suspicion that the trustee is not complying with the rules for investment and distribution. If such suspicion turns out to be valid, the trust protector can replace the trustee. Sometimes the named trustee is a trust company, where employee turnover or a merger or acquisition results in a less satisfactory relationship between trustee and beneficiary. A trust protector can also resolve any ambiguities in the trust document, settle disputes between a trustee and beneficiary— all in an effort to resolve issues outside of court.
Finally, if a settlor is serving as their own trustee, a trust protector can be named to participate in that settlor’s incapacity panel should the settlor’s competency ever be called into question. Clients may be averse, at first, to opening up involvement in this intimate disability determination to anyone outside of their family. Most of our clients come to appreciate the idea of including a trust protector — an objective and disinterested party — in this highly charged, but necessary, process.
Wool Landon clients grow to trust us, become friends and, at times, like family to us. Unlike a good friend or family member who may be may be unable to serve when asked, a Wool Landon trust protector comes with a line of succession attorneys, ensuring a dependable presence on an incapacity panel. Even the most noble and loving children may have a difficult time separating their ideas about what is best for the trust estate from what is best for themselves as potential beneficiaries, or from their own emotional ties to a parent. A trust protector’s reasoning would be largely free and unencumbered by conflicting interests.