From time to time, all of us feel like we are falling behind. Every year seems to move a little faster than the year before, and we have put off some chores for so long, they have fallen off the “to do” list. The Pandemic has added a layer of challenge, like doing chores while wearing lead shoes.
As a long time professional trustee, I understand daunting deadlines and that feeling of not being able to catch up. My team and I have achieved so much, in concert with the attorneys, and all the other professionals, whose services we need on virtually every matter, I thought I would share some ideas, so you can get your “ducks in a row”, too.
What is the Plan?
Understanding where you want to end up, like producing an accounting, or completing an estate settlement, is a good place to start. Many of us get overwhelmed when we see a long to do list. If you will be completing a big task like an estate administration, it is very helpful to break down the overall list into smaller tasks, which facilitates:
- Organization – When we first enter a case, there is often chaos, and a lot of unknowns. Even the very people we are serving may not have the answers we need, at the beginning. Gathering all known paperwork, and reaching out to the various financial institutions to gain more information, is typical of the very beginning of a matter.
- Delegation – Once we have sorted through all the documentation we can find, we can then use the organized documents to assign tasks. For instance, once we have identified where the bank accounts are, I then have to visit that institution and bring all relevant documents, so the legal department can see that I have authority over the asset held there. In the meantime, my team is finding out what forms certain institutions need completed (often notarized), so that we can begin the task of collecting all the assets, per the instructions in the trust document. It is wise to ask for expert help.
- Reporting to Others – Within the first three to six months, we often have a much better idea of what is going on with the matter. We have identified the vendors to pay, where the money will come from to pay those bills, and much more. It is very helpful to provide a preliminary report to appropriate stakeholders (beneficiaries, and/or trustors) so that they too can see the progress we are making. Sometimes those who receive the initial update can provide additional information. Typically, a formal accounting is produced at the end of the first year of administration, and every year thereafter.
Even when there is no trust to administer, like serving as agent under a Durable Power of Attorney, there is still a requirement for documenting what assets have been discovered, the plan for how the assets are to be spent, along with their beginning balances, so that someday, when we are asked to account, this information will be readily available.
Everyone, family member, friend, or professional, who serve in a fiduciary capacity, should plan to account for their work by tracking all income and expenses, and be fully prepared to publish an accounting to those entitled to receive the information. You never know when the case you are working on might end up in court, or in dispute. Anyone who is interested in the matter may bring up questions which need answering, and being prepared for this helps you to organize more effectively, from the beginning.
Have more questions? Check out my book, Ethics for Trustees 2.0. This is a short book designed to help everyone who is involved in estate planning understand more about what is expected of the fiduciary, whether a professional, or an adult child.
Marguerite Lorenz, CTFA, CLPF is a Master Trustee and a Managing Partner at Lorenz Private Trustees (MyTrustee.net) and has served as a Trustee and Executor since 2003.