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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday—News from The Successor Trustee: Job Description

Choosing a successor and being a successor

The Trust and The Successor Trustee
I've written previously about the nature of a living trust and the qualities of a good successor trustee.  Because I am both a successor trustee and the architect of my own family trust, I've had to identify certain characteristics that are required in order to administer a trust.

Loyalty & Responsibility

A strong sense of loyalty and an unshakable sense of fiduciary responsibility is at the core of what it takes to administer a trust.

Moral Code

A trust is a contract essentially based on a personal understanding between the grantor and the successor.  The grantor puts his/her faith in the belief that the successor will not only carry out the legal terms of the trust, but will also honor the intentions of the grantor.  Honesty, a sense of fairness, and an uncompromising code of personal integrity guide the successor's decisions.

Personal Fortitude

Add fearlessness, perseverance, common sense, personal drive, an obsessive personality, and what one of the kid dancers at my studio said about me the other night—an air of authority.  I don't think that anyone who knows me would argue with that one.


The ability to work alone.  Much of the work that I've done in order to move through the business of my dad's trust has required lots of time by myself sorting, organizing, cleaning, filing, shopping, writing, hunting, researching, thinking, and crying.  Oh wait, did I say crying?  I meant guessing.  Okay, guessing and crying go together sometimes, so let's just say guessing accompanied by occasional crying.

Healthy Mind & Body

Did I mention insomnia, burnout, and free-floating anxiety?  I guess, those aren't really personal qualities.  They are just part of the job description.  Time management and knowing how to balance work and life outside of the trust are crucial aspects of administering a trust.  It is important to know when to take a break.  I push myself pretty hard, often past my personal limit.  But, I also know that I need uninterrupted sleep, time at night to relax, down time, and regular meals in order to sustain the everyday work.


The ability to bounce back with a fresh perspective and renewed determination.

Running A Marathon

What is so hard about inheritance that makes administering a trust such an ordeal?

I am four months into a process that I was told at the beginning would take six to nine months, maybe longer according to two people I know who are still trying to close a family trust.  Two years is not unusual, particularly when the money is spread all over Kingdom Come.

Where is Kingdom Come, you ask?  According to the Bible, it's "the next world" or "the end of time."  When you're hunting down over 50 years of financial accounts, be prepared for an arduous journey.  It turns out that Kingdom Come is wherever there are accounts in which to park investments.  And, to get there, you'll need a winged horse and a holy grail of single-malt scotch (well, it helps anyway).

Why This Is Important

Up until I became a successor trustee, I did not grasp the scope of the work.  My eyes would start to glaze over after the first five minutes of listening to Suze Orman talk about setting up a trust.  I'm listening, now.  Like getting a divorce, owning a house, or having a baby, it is a hard subject to relate to unless you've gone through it.

I can honestly say that there has not been a single day since my dad died that I haven't thought about this trust.  I am on a critical path where one thing leads to another, and every decision changes the outcome of the following day's events and activities.  It is the Butterfly Effect, and the goal each day is to control the chaos and move all of the unrelated pieces toward resolution.  In Newtonian mechanics, this is known as a, "dynamical system," in which the future outcomes are known for only a short period of time and are dependent upon the changes that take place each moment.

From Wikipedia - Dynamical System

"To determine the state for all future times requires iterating the relation many times—each advancing time a small step. The iteration procedure is referred to as solving the system or integrating the system. Once the system can be solved, given an initial point it is possible to determine all its future positions, a collection of points known as a trajectory or orbit."  

Yep, it's like that.  

Even the most well planned trust is complicated because a trust is a dynamical system that is influenced by outside sources that are unknown until you get to a certain point in the evolution of events.  So, why should anyone go through the trouble of putting together a trust?  For one reason.  

Your life does not end when you die.  And, I'm not talking about floating up to Heaven and sitting on a fluffy cloud with a harp and an unlimited supply of nacho cheese-flavored Doritos.    

Reality dictates that we all leave a footprint, and in one way or another, our heirs are bound to it.  It's hard to ignore a house, automobiles, furniture, beautiful gardens, pets, clothing, mementos, unpaid bills, taxes, a garage full of tools, and decades of active living.  

A trust represents the orderly conclusion of all business.  This happens with or without a legal trust, but a trust provides clear instructions on how to proceed, and it simplifies everything.  The focus is not so much on fair dispensation or telling people how much you like them.  Those are things that should be done before you die.  If you want to provide for relatives &/or friends with gifts, do it before you kick off.  Take care of this distribution yourself.  It's more meaningful when the grantor is still alive, and it reduces stress later on for the successor trustee.  

Who Gets What
If the gifts are substantial enough to keep intact before you die, they can be stipulated in the pour-over will (a catch-all will that goes with the trust) or in the terms of the trust itself.  Cash gifts for the grandkids, for instance.  Or suppose, you want to leave a car to somebody.  Some people donate money to a college or a favorite non-profit organization.   

I have to say, though, that I am extremely grateful that my dad did not stipulate a list of gifts because it puts the successor in the role of gift giver with potentially volatile consequences.  As administrator of the trust, the successor is in that role anyway, but a general, all-encompassing trust takes the pressure off of the successor to find and deliver a list of items.  My dad simply incorporated all of his personal possessions into the trust, and it was then up to the beneficiaries to decide on who gets what.  

Avoiding Conflict
One sure-fire way to prevent conflict between the survivors is to include a standard "no contest clause," which basically says that anyone who contests or attacks the will/trust forfeits their share and is no longer a beneficiary as if they had predeceased the original trustee.  It may not be valid in all states, but it makes an important statement to the heirs.       

Providing Structure
A trust is about providing a foundational structure so that the business end of a person's life can be closed in an orderly fashion.    

Would the absence of a family trust have changed the outcome of my dad's affairs?  Holy cow, YES.  It avoided legal nightmares with step-siblings, for one.  And, it provided a reasonable timeline for dealing with decades of complex financial issues.  His preparation beforehand, along with the organization of his files, provided a foundation that we would not have had otherwise.  That made my job as successor trustee a lot easier.

Next topic...The Anatomy of a Trust

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday—The Photoshop Gallery Lost Pix

Previously unpublished rejects from my iPhoto library

Photo taken August 18, 2013
New Texture from Leslie Nicole_French Kiss
Impression VI_Tattered1

I shot this for a Kim Klassen book cover assignment.
I added the butterfly stamp and hand-colored it
in Photoshop.  I like the animated look of the butterfly.

Original photo by Kim Klassen.
I sharpened it and added a French Kiss distressed metal texture.

I created this manifesto for my texture class_2B
Photo by me_Playing with a lovely French Kiss texture
Originally published without the text

A camelia study

Part of a work-in-progress.
I published a final version on flikr

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thursday Mini-Post: Runaway Bunnies!!

I want to feed a herd of bunnies!

Taken on Okunoshima ("Rabbit Island"), a tourist attraction in Japan

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home: Miramo Balls

Naturally elegant plants for your home & work space

Photo courtesy of PinkSerissa & SnapSuites

I saw this cute little Miramo Moss Ball posted on Pinterest today and thought I'd share it.

This is technically a green algae, not a seaweed or a moss.  It lives on the bottom of lakes in the northern hemisphere (Iceland, Scotland, Japan & Estonia) and is a protected species in both Iceland and Japan.  

Miramo balls are green, velvety, and squishy.  What's not to like about these cute little plants?  Like a shamrock, they are considered a sign of good luck.  They grow by absorbing light on all sides as they are gently pushed by the action of waves and currents.  In a healthy, balanced aquatic ecosystem, they can grow up to 12 inches in diameter, and they can live for up to 200 years.

As a houseplant, they like indirect sunlight, normal room temps, and clean water every week or two.  As a result of photosynthetic growth, they will occasionally move around in their bowl.

You can order one of these cute aquatic kits from PinkSerissa on Etsy  for $22.

Happy March!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday—News From the Trustee: 4 Weeks

Transforming the house from February 16 to March 16...

Step 1:  Donate & Declutter
Remove clutter & everything that makes the house look dated

Buh-bye stuff
Step 2:  Stage — Remove personal items & update furnishings 

Bedroom #1

Before...February 16, 2013
Removed the old bookcase, books & a spare dresser_
Added fresh new blue stripe linens from JC Penney
 Bedroom #2
Before...November 2013
February 16, 2014
Got rid of the antique hutch & the exercise equipment;
Replaced the old linens with new linens from the closet;
Rearranged the furniture
Cleaned & rearranged the furniture again;
Added new contemporary linens from JC Penney (picture this without my junk)

Master Suite

Before...November 2013
...December 2013
Removed the TV, replaced the bedding, removed the computer & electronics
Cleaned off the desk_Removed a corner desk stand_Took out the phone
Replaced old floral linens with fresh new white duvet & duvet cover set from Amazon

Added contemporary small touches like this dog nightlight (from Walmart)
to the master bedroom suite
 Dining Room
Before...November 2013
...December 2013
Removed the old tablecloth & clutter; rearranged wall art
Moved the hutch away from the dining table to open up the space;
removed the extension & made it into a smaller 4-chair table; flipped the table horizontally;
created a new seating area with the spare chairs; removed the wall art

Living Room

Before...November 2013
2 gawd-awful ratty old chairs!!

Replaced with one inexpensive Mid-Century style chair & ottoman
New 2-compartment faux leather bench for staging the living room 

Removed the brown sectional, paintings & the Persian throw rug_
Kept the authentic Mid-Century Heywood Wakfield end table, accent table
& small bookcase from upstairs

Step 3:  Repair — Fix EVERYTHING that needs fixing

Before & After...
Installed a new faucet & hoses underneath the cabinet;
Replaced & fixed the toilet hose connector; replaced the toilet seat

Still to do...Replace the corroded kitchen sink & leaky faucet

Sink/faucet kids available at Lowe's_My plumber will do the installation
& possibly have to cut the drop-in hole to fit
Step 4: Revive

Paint the interior
Living Room
Sherwin-Williams Alpaca Gray on the walls_Swiss Coffee white trim & ceiling
Clearing off the pot shelf above the entry way
Good guy helper, Ed
Entry into the living room 

Kitchen stove & counter area
Kitchen sink area
Wet bar & fireplace
Living Room
Staircase looking down

Downstairs closet

Dining Room

Entry Accent Wall
Sherwin-Williams Functional Gray

Pot Shelf

Staircase going up

Upstairs landing & hall
Sherwin-Williams Functional Gray
New yellow linens to brighten the bedroom

Swiss Coffee White closet doors & trim_We will replace the door inserts

Removing large, bulky furniture makes a small room look bigger
Master Bedroom Doorway (Swiss Coffee White)

Guest Bathroom
Sherwin-Williams Requisite Gray_walls & ceiling

Master Bedroom Walls_Alpaca Gray

Master Bedroom white ceiling

Master Bath Shower, Powder Room & Linen Closet
Alpaca Gray walls_Swiss Coffee White ceiling, doors & trim

Master Jacuzzi Tub Surround

Laundry Room
Sherwin-Williams Requisite Gray_walls & ceiling
Still To Do...Floors!