Trust Protectors: They Can Come In Handy When Your (Trust) Intentions are in a Pinch

What do I mean by “pinch”? Well, let’s say that you’ve created a trust, with yourself as the initial trustee. You know what you want to do with your trust, who you want to benefit, what you what to happen and what you don’t want to happen–that drug addled nephew, for example doesn’t get anything until he shapes up.

You’ve got big plans, and you think you’ve made your intentions clear, both in the trust and to the person or persons who will succeed you as trustee should you die or become incapacitated.

And then you die. And your successor trustee takes over. And as time moves on and one, your trustee begins to deviate from the path you clearly explained to him years ago. And he does this some more and some more, until he’s way off the path that leads to the fulfillment of your dreams for your beneficiaries. What do do?

Well, you could come back as a ghost and scare him straight, but that’s a long shot, right? Or your beneficiaries could all get together and petition the court to remove the trustee, but that can be a long, drawn-out, expensive, and often futile process. Though more receptive to the idea of modifying a trust or removing a trustee, courts have been and still can be reluctant to do so.

IMG_1996Enter the trust protector–that is, if you named a trust protector in your trust document. What’s trust protector, you ask? According to Lawrence A. Frolick, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, trust protectors

are best conceived as a means for a settlor [or grantor or trust maker] to attempt to ensure that the intent behind the establishment of the trust remains fulfilled in the future. Settlors [grantors, trust makers] appoint a protector to create and alter-ego who can supervise the trust and act to ensure that the purpose of the trust, as envisioned by the settlor [grantor, trust maker] is carried out even if the trustee must be replaced or the terms of the trust must be modified. The settlor [grantor, trust maker] by appointing a protector, overcomes the judicial reluctance to modify trusts . . . (Trust Protectors: Why They Have Become “The Next Bit Thing,” Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal, pg. 268-269, 50:2, Fall 2015; see here for an abstract of the article)

Now, trust protectors aren’t necessary for every trust, especially those that will close their doors once the grantor’s children reach an age appropriate to receive their final distributions free of trust–if that’s the grantor’s plan. However, for those of you who want their trust and their trustee to carry out their intentions for years and years into the future, a trust protector makes all kinds of sense. Think of it: A trustee, even the best trustee, will probably do a better job if she knows someone with the power to remove her will continue to be looking over her shoulder for years to come.

Not a bad idea.

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