Why You Need More Than Just an Estate Planning Attorney

No one looks forward to estate planning. It’s one of those items on the checklist that starts at the bottom and can stay there for years—for that “someday” when you have time. And yet, when it’s done right, a good estate planning solution is likely to bring you much more enduring peace of mind and well-being than many of the other things you’ve marked off that list. 

Whether you’re just starting out planning your estate or you’re updating an existing trust, most of us have the same goals:

  1. to know that your estate planning solutions are in competent hands;
  2. to ensure the estate will be settled quickly when the time comes;
  3. to minimize administrative costs that reduce the inheritance; and perhaps most importantly,
  4. to avoid conflict over distribution of assets and management of the process.

Dream team: estate planning attorney and other pros

Finding a good estate planning attorney is often the expected first step, and not an easy one, since you want someone you can trust who is accessible, strategic and responsive. But in fact, the legal aspect of creating a trust is only a portion of what you should be considering. What’s at stake, after all? Money and other assets. And who do you trust with your money? If your answer was a financial consultant, wealth manager or investment advisor, then you’re on the right path. It takes the combination of legal and financial expertise to make sure that all elements of the estate are covered. 

Ideal plans include well-rounded estate planning solutions

The best solution is a team that holds legal, accounting and advanced business degrees, which may include a Chartered Financial Analyst, Certified Trust and Financial Advisor, Certified Financial Planner and Certified Public Accountant. Here are four reasons why:

1) Legal concerns are only the beginning of estate planning solutions. In death, as in life, there are always taxes. Even with the best planning, taxes are an inevitable gauntlet trustees must pass through, including not just estate taxes, but also income tax and generation-skipping transfer tax laws. In addition to taxes, administering a trust often involves federal securities laws, principal and income accounting principles, and real estate, business, insurance and other concerns. Even the most adept estate lawyer will be challenged to manage all of that alone. And it’s not a lawyer’s job to warn you about tax implications of your estate, which is why estate taxes are often one of the most unwelcome surprises for family members.

2) Bureaucracy is another unavoidable aspect of all tax and real estate transactions. With all the paperwork and judicial processes, settling an estate can take years, even with a trust in place. Transparent and accurate bookkeeping is critical during this time, as trustees must keep documentation of expenditures for the trust beneficiaries. It saves significant time, money, frustration and further legal issues in the end when a certified accountant works in partnership with the estate planning attorneys on your team.

3) A trust portfolio should be increasing your family’s wealth while you are alive as well as  during the settlement of the estate. And of course, your portfolio should be constructed and managed according to your particular investment objectives and risk tolerance. A Certified Financial Planner or dedicated client advisor can weave together all of the investments and aspects of your life in concert with an estate planning attorney to ensure your assets will meet the goals for your estate.  

4) Estate management is one of the most stressful elements in a person’s life, and it’s not unusual to see family members buckle under the weight of it, particularly when they are grieving from the loss of a loved one. Why not make sure your family has the best resources and expertise possible during this challenging time, and has someone on their side throughout the difficult process? An individual estate planning attorney will rarely step out of their role to address your personal concerns during this time, nor should they, as their mission is to execute legal issues in the most efficient way to save you money on their billable hours. But with a team looking out for you and your family, you will have not only an attorney but also a portfolio manager, a client advisor and an advisor assistant who can respond to whatever you need, when you need it. This team will act objectively, mitigate any conflicts among family members and ensure ethical decisions are made in the best interest of the trust and its beneficiaries.

The truth is that this seemingly simple item on the checklist—estate planning—can quickly grow complex. A misstep in any aspect of the estate settlement process—legal, financial, administrative or interpersonal—can lead to disputes, missed deadlines, delays and unexpected costs and complications. The good news, though, is that all you have to do is find a team you trust and leave it to them to navigate the maze of estate planning and settlement for you, according to your wishes. Your family will thank you, and you will ensure peace of mind and well-being both for yourself right now and for your beneficiaries, in perpetuity.  

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Preparing the successors for sustainable intergenerational wealth management 

It’s back to school season all across the U.S., the time to get back into routines and more structured schedules. It also can present teachable moments for families, who might use the school calendar to motivate activities focused on finance, specifically around the topics of intergenerational wealth, stewardship, their role in the estate and the family business.

Surprisingly, personal finance classes are not as prevalent in our school system as we might hope. Currently, only 30 states require schools to offer personal finance classes in high school. However, of the 30, only 17 states at present actually require that a course be completed prior to graduating. That leaves responsibility to parents and grandparents to discuss intergenerational wealth with children, teens and young adults. As children of all ages head back to school, it can be an ideal time to involve them in financial discussions and model good stewardship and decision-making, fostering a sense of responsibility and empowerment around family wealth. 

Once you have determined that it’s time to begin having discussions with the younger members of your family about how to build intergenerational wealth, “It’s essential to take into consideration the personalities of your family members and how familiar they already are with the status of your wealth, “ says Whittier Trust Senior VP, Client Advisor, Kim Frasca-Delaney. For the high net worth families who are Whittier Trust clients, there are myriad resources at their disposal to help with these age-appropriate discussions.  

Ready to get started? Here are some activities and ideas that can make the topic of intergenerational wealth approachable no matter the ages involved. 

Little ones: Age-appropriate discussions about generational wealth 

For younger, elementary school-age children, begin with simple activities such as tracking what is spent while shopping or deciding how to spend on a particular project. This can help model good financial decision-making and stewardship. If you’re in a position to save some money on a particular project, you could give that to the child and help them start an interest-earning savings account. Children can see the money they add accumulate and grow over time. This can spark a discussion about compounding interest and why saving is so important, particularly when it comes to growing wealth. 

This can also be a great time to tell the family’s “story”—sharing details about how the family or ancestors came to acquire what is now generational wealth. It might be information about a grandparent who worked hard to start a business or a great-grandparent who had the courage to immigrate to the United States and saved carefully to give his or her descendants a better future. These bits of family history can be meaningful, teachable moments that showcase good values and financial responsibility. 

Teens: Open discussions about generational wealth transfer

Even in families that have the financial means to provide everything their children need (and want), it can be wise to give them opportunities to rise to the challenge of saving for their personal goals. For pre-teens and teenagers, such discussions may center around saving for college, that first car, or even an upcoming trip they would like to take. Parents who don’t wish to simply hand over funds for a big goal might consider offering to match whatever they save or work for. 

Using both budgeting and the setting of clear financial goals, teens can calculate how much income they will need to reach their stated goal. If the teenager already has college funds set aside by parents or grandparents, this is the perfect opportunity to discuss intergenerational wealth and generational wealth transfer. Actions by previous generations have led to the accumulation of wealth that makes it possible for them to attend college debt-free. It is important that teens understand how the wealth was accumulated and what the expectations are for the stewardship of this generational wealth going forward. 

Young adults: Generational wealth transfer may start to become a reality

As your children or grandchildren make their way through college or into adulthood and the workforce, it’s the perfect time for frank discussions about investment strategy, the family business, philanthropy and even how estate planning can (and should) occur. College age and young adult children should be prepared to be successors for their family legacies and estates, which is at the core of intergenerational wealth. 

Each of these age groups benefit from open lines of communication, leading by example, and even allowing a child to fail or encounter a dilemma. These situations open the door for having a conversation about how wealth is accumulated, how it compounds and the importance of preserving wealth for future generations.

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How to avoid the downsides of an estate plan

Many considerations are at play when creating an estate plan. Parents and grandparents often want to make sure family members are taken care of, while simultaneously enacting their own vision for the family legacy and goals for their estate. However, sometimes those decisions might benefit from a different viewpoint. That’s when Whittier Trust client advisors step in to point out potential unintended downsides of trust planning so that the patriarch and/or matriarch of a family can make more informed decisions for their family’s future. Here, Dave G. Covell, Jr., senior vice president and client advisor at Whittier Trust, outlines a few common pitfalls of trust planning and alternative ways to address them. 

Appointing one child as trustee over another.

Parents might be inclined to make the more responsible or eldest child the trustee of their estate. However, this can create a rift between siblings. The parent has elevated one child over the other(s). This can create conflict and evoke emotional reactions (“Mom/Dad always liked you best!”) from the others(s). Conflict can occur where the trustee sibling doesn’t approve of his or her siblings’ spending habits and denies trust payments to them, which can then have a trickle-down effect on the grandkids if their families become estranged. As a result, “I would advise anyone creating an estate plan to have an independent party like Whittier or a trusted non-family member serving as the trustee, as there is too much downside to having one child making financial decisions over another child in the family,” Covell says.

He notes that not treating everyone the same, including a scenario where one child receives a trust and another does not, will likely have a ripple effect on the family down the road. He explains, “Typically, parents want kids to get together and be a family. So, it’s our job to raise a hand and say, ‘These choices are going to create problems. But if you want do things unequally, let’s see how best to approach it in your estate plan.’”

Creating a trust that does not include spouses. 

Parents often want to make sure that if their married kids get divorced or pass away, their assets don’t end up going to the non-family-member spouse. “If, say, their son or daughter passes away, leaving a surviving spouse and child(ren), there can be unintended consequences if the spouse isn’t provided for. If all the trust money goes directly to the grandkids, it can complicate the relationship between their mother or father, whoever is the non-family-member spouse, and their kids,” says Covell. He advises that there are ways to plan for these circumstances to maintain good family harmony. One way to provide for a non-family member spouse is to require the spouse to be married and living in the same household at the time of the family member spouse’s death. Another option is to give the family member spouse the power to appoint all or a portion of the net income to the non-family spouse. 

Setting up uber-limiting clauses in a trust.

Parents might want something specific for their children and insert a clause into the estate plan that may be potentially unattainable or shortsighted. For instance, parents might want their children to become high earners and set a financial incentive such that if they earn $100K per year, they’ll get a $100K match from their trust. “At Whittier, we would advise against that because it doesn’t take into account other scenarios, such as having a profession like a public service job that is less lucrative yet highly rewarding to the child personally and to their community,” says Covell. He offers the example of a client who could afford to accept a fulfilling, yet lower-paying teaching job because she was the beneficiary of a trust that greatly supplemented her annual income. Likewise, Covell says to beware of tight restrictions posed around education because one might not know how a child  or grandchild is going to develop—instead of college, they might opt for a vocational school, or there might be a developmental issue that requires alternative options to traditional higher education down the road. “Creating the flexibility to adjust to  future unknowns is indicative of a well written trust,” he notes. 

Additionally, parents might want to leave a property that is near and dear to their hearts and want it to stay in the family.  An example of legacy properties might be a cabin or family ranch. If the beneficiaries don’t live on or near it, don’t have the wealth of the parents to maintain it or aren’t interested in taking it over, the parents might need to rethink how it is written into their estate plan. “Parents might need to set aside funds for that property’s maintenance and hire a manager or others to oversee the property long-term. It might mean their kids get less of their other assets if that’s a focus for them,” Covell says.

While the wishes outlined in the estate plan are up to the parent or grandparent creating it, a professional estate plan advisor can help offer guidance to ensure the longevity of family legacy and avoidance of unnecessary conflict for the best outcome possible. 

1. Appointing one child as trustee over another.


2. Creating a trust that does not include spouses.


3. Setting up uber-limiting clauses in a trust.



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When you were 10, your brother helped you budget your allowance to afford a bike. When you were 20, your sister helped you secure an internship in your career field. So naturally, either would be a great choice as a trustee for your estate, right?

Not necessarily, said Thomas Frank, executive vice president and Northern California regional manager for Whittier Trust, a wealth management and investment firm. Here’s why it’s a smart idea to forego family or friends and consider a professional trustee.

A Truly Impartial POV

When stress and emotions rise, as they do when a loved one dies, tensions can emerge—even in mild-mannered and loving families, said Frank. A professional trustee is impartial, which can be a tough stance for friends or family to take when it comes to assessing the intentions of loved ones who have died.

“Trust litigation is a growing area, where beneficiaries sue a trustee, so naming a loved one as a trustee may not be doing them any favors,” said Frank. For example, “naming one sibling as trustee for the other(s) is a recipe for intrafamily litigation. No one wants their sibling to be in charge of their financial destiny.”

Ability to Assess a Professional Trustee

While a friend or family member may seem competent, you won’t see them in action with your assets. Hiring a professional trustee can give you the opportunity to see their work and judgment while you’re still living.

“At Whittier, we have some clients who come in with the intention of naming us as a trustee, and give us assets to manage as a way to assess the relationship,” said Frank. This sort of relationship can be invaluable if your spouse were to die.

“Sometimes, we have situations where one spouse is actively managing investments,” Frank added. “If something were to happen to that spouse, the surviving partner wouldn’t know where to pick up. Developing a relationship with a professional trustee can put everyone on the same page.”

Less Responsibility and Liability for Family Members

“Being a trustee involves a lot of work,” said Frank. “A need for expertise on asset management and taxes and is a full-time job. It’s a burden.”

While a professional trustee charges a fee (usually a small annual percentage of the estate’s assets), they are a fiduciary, bound to act in the best interest of the trust. Not only does hiring a trustee take administrative tasks and responsibility off the plate of your beneficiaries, but the expense of a professional trustee may be less than hiring multiple professionals to manage the trust. For example, if your trust includes investments, business ownership and real estate holdings, a professional trustee may have the expertise to manage this full portfolio, rather than relying on multiple advisors.

Protection for Your Beneficiaries

Some people may hold back from appointing a professional trustee because they fear their loved ones would lose control of the estate. But that’s not the case, said Frank. Putting conditions in place, such as the right to remove and replace a trustee, can still give your loved ones overall control of how they wish the trust to be handled.

“We’ve seen a lot of situations where a local banking institution was named a professional trustee,” he said. “Down the road, that bank gets swallowed up by a national institution, and beneficiaries find their needs handled by a 1-800 number. Even if that’s fine, they may still want that personal attention, which can be a reason to remove and replace.”

There are other options that can protect your estate from a rogue trustee. Naming a third-party or professional trust protector who can monitor or replace trustees can be an option if you anticipate beneficiaries may not have the capacity to reach consensus when it comes to a “remove and replace” decision. You may also wish to explore setting up your estate in a state (like Nevada) that recognizes “directed” trusts, said Frank. In this scenario, you could separate investment and administration functions, which could then give your beneficiaries control of, say, the family business.

Peace of Mind for You and Your Loved Ones

You want to find a professional trustee who understands your wishes, displays smart decision making and otherwise makes you feel confident your estate is in good hands. Talking through your unique situation with professionals, having them manage assets now and assessing the relationship are all ways to give you peace of mind and help your loved ones in the future.

Written in partnership with Forbes BrandVoice.

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Whether you have a summer beach house or a portfolio of commercial real estate, choosing the right trustee is key to ensuring real estate investments are effectively managed.

“Real estate is one of the largest asset classes in the world, and billionaire families have been created through the passing down of real estate,” said David Dahl, president and CEO of Whittier Trust Company and Whittier Holdings. “That’s why it’s critical to have a business succession plan in place.”

But often people wait until an event occurs, like illness or death, to put that plan in place. This can make it tough for a trustee to get up to speed on the specifics of the property, or to know the background needed to deftly manage the asset for beneficiaries. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a set plan and understand the responsibilities a trustee will uphold. Here are five things to keep in mind when appointing a trustee.

1. Do they have the capacity to handle interpersonal disputes?

Everyone in your family may get along well, so at first glance it may seem relatively straightforward for them to manage a vacation property within an estate. But that may not be the case a generation down the line when you may have 10 or 15 people, including grandchildren and children’s spouses, who all have a different vision of how they want to maintain the property. In these cases, said Dahl, a professional trustee can act to arbitrate and ensure the property continues to be used in line with your wishes.

2. Do they have the bandwidth to take on trustee duties?

Overseeing real estate is a big responsibility that requires ongoing maintenance and connections to professionals, including property managers, attorneys and bookkeepers. Does your trustee have the capacity to manage this?

“We’ve seen clients who have grown their property portfolio their whole lives,” said Dahl. “They may now have multiple residential or commercial buildings, but for them, the process is instinctual. They know their team, they know their tenants, and it may only take a few hours a week to oversee.”

But that may not be the case for a trustee, even if the trustee is familiar with the business. In these cases, it may be a good idea to consider a professional trustee, who has the expertise and ability to devote the time and attention to your portfolio needs.

3. Can they do what’s best for the future of the property?

Some people may be reluctant to consider hiring a professional trustee, or a trustee outside the family, because they worry that their family may lose control of the property. But the right trustee will ensure that decisions surrounding the property will be in the best interest of all beneficiaries. Dahl pointed to an example of an heir who wanted to open a deli on the bottom floor of a residential building.

“By asking about a business plan, trustees could assess how that move could impact the property,” he said. The right trustee will be able to add similar guardrails as heirs consider how the property will evolve over time.

4. Do they have a network of professionals, including tax attorneys, readily available?

One common scenario Dahl and his colleagues regularly see is estate property transfers triggering property tax reassessments. In some cases, in high-cost areas, Dahl has seen property tax bills balloon from several thousand dollars to $30,000 or higher. A corporate trustee, for example, will be able to guide your beneficiaries through tax law, connect them to relevant attorneys and help guide estate planning before an event occurs. Similarly, a professional trustee can tap in to necessary resources to manage and maintain properties, potentially saving your heirs time and money in the long run.

5. Do you have a plan in place if that trustee is no longer able to oversee your real estate holdings?

Choosing a trustee will have a ripple effect down the generations. Which is why it’s a good idea to have plenty of time to make the choice. This way, the trustee can gain a deep understanding of your holdings, your family and your wishes long before they are needed. You also have a chance for your beneficiaries to meet the trustee and understand how they will be overseeing the portfolio.

“What we’ve seen time and again is that transparency regarding trustee choices and wishes leads to greater unity and harmony down through the generations,” said Dahl.

An estate planning lawyer can ensure that your family retains control over the trustee in some way. For example, a remove-and-replace clause can allow your heirs to change trustees if the relationship is no longer working, but having a professional trustee in place will minimize disruption and can make a smooth transition more likely down the line than a relative might.

Written in partnership with Forbes BrandVoice.

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The Family Dynamics That Make Estate Planning Hard

Squabbling siblings, spendthrift heirs and hostile step-relatives aren’t just the stuff of television drama. These characters often turn up in families, too, which can make estate planning challenging for high-net-worth (HNW) and ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) households.

“What we’ve learned at Whittier Trust working with UHNW families over multiple generations is that raising kids is hard, but doing it in the context of significant wealth is actually much harder,” said Pegine Grayson, a Senior Vice President for Philanthropic Services at Whittier Trust in South Pasadena, California.

Whether you’re dealing with motivating offspring or merely the fact that each family member has different needs, acknowledging family dynamics is an important part of estate planning.

To effectively address complicated family issues, communication with your heirs — including candid conversations while you’re alive and a “letter of wishes” to be read during the estate transition — is often extremely beneficial, said Kimberly Frasca-Delaney, a Vice President and Client Advisor for Whittier Trust.

“Many situations benefit from an overarching two- pronged approach,” Grayson noted. “Number one, put the right plan in place, and number two, communicate about it appropriately with your heirs. I think if either of those things breaks down, you may not get the desired result.”

Challenging Family Dynamics

Matching your estate plan with your family’s needs requires a delicate balance of financial, psychological and emotional considerations. Advisors at Whittier Trust often are significantly involved in this process, and in particularly challenging situations they sometimes suggest bringing facilitators and counselors to family meetings to mitigate conflict and build understanding.

Here are some of the common issues that wealthy families can face.

1. Sibling Rivalries

“Kids are wired the way they are wired,” said Frasca-Delaney. “If they’ve been fighting all their lives, a financial advisor usually can’t fix that.”

Money may increase these tensions. For example, a more financially successful sibling may look down on a sibling who might be equally successful but in a less lucrative career.

Whittier Trust will often assign different advisors to siblings to ensure that each sibling feels that his or her business is separate and apart, Frasca-Delaney said.

But it’s often important for parents to explain their goals and objectives as well as the reasons for their choices.

“Beneficiaries, whether they’re children or charities, should know there’s a plan in place and that the creators of the plan are comfortable with the plan,” said Frasca-Delaney.

Some plans may increase the potential for family disharmony. Naming one sibling as a trustee who can set limits over his or her brothers and sisters isn’t doing that sibling any favors, Grayson cautioned. She suggests choosing an impartial corporate trustee to avoid such a situation, which will almost certainly become a source of aggravation.

“No parent wants to envision a scenario where, after they die, the kids are in open warfare or suing each other,” she explained.

Grayson also recommends that parents consider giving at least some money to each sibling, rather than completely cutting anyone out of the will, and include an explanation for the disparity. Some estate planners include a stipulation that the “disinherited” heir will lose even that smaller amount if he or she sues. Such a clause may be a deterrent, even in a state where it isn’t enforceable.

A letter of intention spelling out the reasons for a disparity in inheritance — explaining that an heir squandered money during the parents’ lifetime, for instance — can also reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit.

2. Blended Families

Thankfully, said Frasca-Delaney, most of the patriarchs and matriarchs of blended families she encounters are mindful of the need to take care of every family member appropriately.

“Sometimes the children from a first marriage and second marriage may be treated differently, or will get certain assets that are sentimental or special to that first family,” she said.

A letter explaining the intentions of parents or grandparents is particularly important in blended families, she said — precisely so its members know that situations like the above, in which the daughter of a first wife might get a different or even more desirable inheritance than the daughter of a second, are expressions of the patriarch’s wishes.

The creation of a family foundation can bring families together to work on philanthropic causes — which may eventually bring them together emotionally, said Grayson.

Whether the family is a traditional or a blended one, meetings can make estate planning more transparent and smooth the way for an easier future transition.

“We work intensively with our parents to explore what it is that would be good to tell the kids now based on how old they are and how mature they are,” said Grayson.

“We create a place where everybody can come together, where the matriarch or the patriarch can tell stories of what the wealth has meant to them or what their feelings about money were or what their values are that they want to pass on to their kids. Regularly, we offer a flowchart of what their plan looks like and why, and a chance for the heirs to ask questions.”

3. Bad Influences

A trust can protect heirs from bad decisions and from others attempting to access their wealth — which sometimes even includes their friends and spouses, said Grayson.

One female client married a partner who wanted to use the bulk of the client’s family money to support his business endeavors, which ended up failing. The result was that the couple had to considerably rebuild their finances.

Fortunately, a trust was in place that prevented her from draining the family wealth too, Grayson said.

4. Spendthrift Heirs

By providing staggered payments or tying funds to specific uses, such as education, buying property or starting a business, a trust can be a strong instrument to control spending.
In some cases, money is spent irresponsibly due to substance abuse or mental health issues, said Frasca-Delaney. To address this, advisors may arrange family meetings with counselors to discuss ways to handle these issues financially and emotionally.

A trust can be written to control spending and behavior, with clauses mandating that funds will become accessible only if an heir undergoes drug testing or treatment or stays sober for a certain number of years, said Frasca-Delaney.

It’s better to proceed cautiously and conservatively in such matters, she said, even if it means offending someone.

In one family, a father was concerned that, if he died before his wife did, his sons, who had already been given and had run though millions of dollars of his money and had proved to be litigious, would rush into court to seek a conservatorship over their mother to get at her assets.

He discussed his concerns with advisors at Whittier Trust, where ultimately, the plan going forward was for him to leave his sons a nominal amount of money and establish a charitable remainder trust that would provide for his wife until she died. At that point the money would revert to charities that were meaningful to him.

In addition, Whittier Trust advised the client to explain his decisions with a letter of intent and obtain a psychological evaluation to establish competency.

That sort of communication, transparency and documentation is often key — regardless of your family dynamics.

“You can have the best plan in place and still, if it’s a shock to the kids or the spouse or to anyone at the time of your passing and feelings are hurt and expectations aren’t met, chances are somebody is going to sue somebody or there will at least be lasting resentment,” said Grayson.

Written in partnership with Forbes BrandVoice.

Estate Planning Challenges


  1. Sibling Rivalries
  2. Blended Families
  3. Bad Influences
  4. Spendthrift Heirs

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How to Choose the Right Trustee for Your Family Trust

Families are complicated. Family financial planning is even more so. That planning can become particularly intricate and emotionally fraught for high-net-worth families that have a lot at stake.

One way a family can handle the issues that arise when transferring significant wealth is a trust. A neutral, third-party corporate trustee can provide balance between family interests and asset protection.

But it’s not quite that easy. A trust, and the people who administer it, need to be chosen with care.

Why you need a trust in the first place

The reason to establish a trust is simple: It can protect a family’s assets from estate taxes, divorce and creditors.

While federal estate taxes are less of an issue for most families given the lifetime exclusion of $11.4 million per person, many states levy inheritance taxes with a significantly lower threshold. A trust lets you transfer assets out of your estate during your lifetime, lowering the estate’s value.

Since the trust owns the assets it contains, they don’t represent marital property in the event of a divorce. Nor can creditors of a trust’s beneficiary reach into the trust for repayment, said Thomas Frank, Executive Vice President and Northern California Regional Manager for Whittier Trust.

In addition, placing shares of a family business into a trust means that the trustee, not the beneficiaries, holds the voting rights for them. If current beneficiaries were to hold them, they might vote in a way that is clouded by their own self-interest. The trustee, on the other hand, must vote the shares with all beneficiaries in mind — both current and future beneficiaries of the trust.

Investing in expertise — and integrity

A trustee’s role is to comprehensively safeguard and manage the trust property, which can involve everything from making sure that trust real estate is properly insured, to managing the trust’s stock portfolio, to issuing financial disbursements to beneficiaries in line with the trust’s terms.

It is impossible to overstate how important it is that the trustee be the right person; so in choosing that person, here are some guidelines to keep in mind.

• The perfect trustee is probably not your spouse.

Your spouse might seem like the best person to manage your trust once you’ve passed. After all, there is probably no one on the planet whom you trust more.

Yet such appointments often lead to complications, said Frank, and especially in blended families — when, for example, a stepparent is involved.

“We see a fair amount of litigation where stepkids sue the stepparents for poor management of the trust,” said Frank.

“We encountered a situation where a stepmom was named as trustee and invested all of the trust assets in bonds, which provided her with a lot of current income but didn’t provide any growth for the remainder beneficiaries,” said Frank. “She didn’t do it out of malice. She just didn’t know. But the remainder beneficiary sued her.”

Eventually Whittier Trust became the successor trustee, and matters ironed themselves out. But the family was forced through a period of tension and incurred over $100,000 in legal fees.

A spouse as trustee can create other complications as well. He or she could remarry, and immediately want to make financial provision for the new spouse, and even that new spouse’s relations. And a spouse, often being close in age to the grantor of the trust, might soon be facing the same health issues, including diminished mental capacity.

Then there is the fact that a spouse can be subject to the undue influence of certain family members.

“Maybe a couple of the kids live really close and they see the spouse a lot, while the other one lives across the country,” said Frank. “The child who’s not close geographically might think that their siblings are influencing mom or dad.”

That is not an issue when a third party serves as trustee.

• It might not be your child, either.

Naming your adult child as your trustee can create similar challenges.

First, not every child is capable of, or even particularly interested in, managing trust assets, Frank said.

Second, child-as-trustee situations can be time bombs from a family-dynamics standpoint. That can be the case even if family members are in business together, and used to dealing with each other in a financial context.

“Running the business for the benefit of your siblings or cousins is hard enough, but then also having the additional level of legal liability and responsibility involved in being their trustee just places that much more responsibility on someone,” said Frank.

“And even if the kids all get along, their spouses may not, particularly when it comes to a lot of money or a family business that’s generating cash,” Frank added.

If a child is running a family business, Frank said, a better solution is to leave him or her to it — and name an independent trustee to run the trust itself.

• Don’t underestimate what a professional can do.

A trustee, Frank said, will essentially “be stepping into the shoes of the grantor.” The trustee therefore has to be someone “who knows the grantor or who has a clear understanding of what the grantor would want.”

If the trust holds voting shares of a family business, the trustee needs to have some level of expertise in that business. He or she will be dealing with management, after all, and possibly sitting on the business’s board, Frank said.

“If a problem comes up, the trustee needs to be able to jump in,” he added. “The trust owns it.”

Some families balk at the idea of hiring a corporate trustee because of the potential lack of control and the expense. Frank says that sort of anxiety can be misplaced.

“A good estate planning lawyer will make sure that the family retains some control over the trustee, but still is able to have professional management and push off some of that liability,” said Frank.

As for the expense of retaining a corporate trustee, everything is relative. Frank points out that families easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees when members start suing each other. A third-party trustee can ideally manage affairs in such a way to help prevent lawsuits in the first place. Avoiding such a trustee can thus be “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” he said.

Selecting a trustee involves numerous factors, many of them unique to particular families. The need for professional and neutral trust management is universal, however. A trustee who develops strong relationships with grantor and beneficiaries; who resists and even helps resolve intra-family political issues; and who mentors younger generations in their stewardship responsibilities, even while protecting and growing the family wealth, is the right sort of trustee to have.

Often, that trustee will be a third-party corporate one.

Written in partnership with Forbes BrandVoice.

Choosing The Right Trustee


  1. The perfect trustee is probably not your spouse.
  2. It might not be your child either.
  3. Don’t underestimate what a professional can do.

From Investments to Family Office to Trustee Services and more, we are your single-source solution.

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A 5-Point Checklist for a Smooth HNW Estate Transition
Not long ago, during an estate plan review for a prospective Whittier Trust client, the firm’s representatives discovered an important issue. The potential client’s child from his first marriage was set up to take over his business — in which he’d given his second wife voting control.

That situation could have led to serious interpersonal strife, not to mention expensive legal battles, after the potential client’s death. And it testifies to the need for iron-clad estate planning, which can make sure that such dangers don’t crop up.

“No one wants to talk about their will or what will happen when they die, but it’s imperative, especially when you have significant assets,” said Thomas Frank, Executive Vice President and Northern California Regional Manager for Whittier Trust.

Moreover, people should revisit their estate plans periodically, at least every three to five years, Frank said. That’s because people often forget certain provisions, such as bequests to people who are no longer alive or from whom they’re estranged, but also because conditions change. A document, Frank said, can become “stale,” neglecting to take into account changes in assets or tax laws.

Checklist for a smooth wealth transfer

That noted, here are five steps that high-net-worth (HNW) and ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals should take to help ensure a seamless estate transition:

  1. Cast a fine net. A review of your estate plan needs to catch all of its potential weaknesses and take into account factors that might not have occurred to you.
    International assets in particular can tend to slip through the cracks.”As our world becomes more globally connected, we run into clients who have assets outside of the U.S.,” said Frank. “The laws of other countries are very different, so people shouldn’t assume that the document that controls their U.S. estate plan will be effective in another country.”One client, who was born in Latin America but is now a U.S. citizen, assumed his estate plan covered the assets he owns in a Latin American country. It didn’t. When that client came to Whittier, Frank referred him to a specialist who handles cross-border estate planning.
  2. Tell your executor or successor where to find everything. Many people assume it’s wise to keep important papers, such as their will and trust documents, in a safe deposit box. That can be a problem, according to Frank, because those documents are often required to prove that someone has been designated as your executor.”It’s best when we know the combination to your safe and where to find your safe deposit box key,” Frank said. “Provide copies of documents to the people who will need them, including all of your power-of-attorney documents.”It’s also crucial to provide your executor with a list of your logins and passwords, along with an inventory of your assets.
  3. Limit surprises to your heirs. Possibly one of the most difficult decisions for wealthy families, according to Frank, is how much to tell their children about their estate plan — and when to do so.”In my experience, the more you can tell the heirs, particularly if the situation is complicated, the better they will receive it when the time comes,” he said.A third-party facilitator from the Whittier team or a trained psychologist can be helpful, especially if there are complicated family dynamics, Frank said.”If one sibling is in charge or one is dramatically favored, that can be a disaster that worsens family strains or creates one that didn’t exist,” said Frank.When it comes to dividing the estate, “fair” doesn’t necessarily mean “equal.” Whatever the particulars, previewing the plan is generally the best way to avoid triggering sibling or other rivalries.You don’t have to attach any numbers to the process, but initiating a conversation about your plans and then introducing your heirs to your professional team of lawyers, accountants, trustees and investment managers can help them know what to expect.
  4. Think about who will manage everything. The people or institutions you choose to fulfill executorship or trustee duties will be dealing with your assets and with your children and other heirs. A professional or institutional trustee can be less expensive in the long run if it helps you avoid intrafamily litigation, Frank noted.”It can be problematic to name your spouse who is a stepparent to your kids as executor, or to name one sibling to that role,” he said. “If you name a neutral professional third party as executor or trustee, then you can give one or more of your children the right to remove and replace that trustee to keep control in the family while limiting liability and keeping family tension to a minimum.”In one recent situation, a surviving spouse lacked the financial acumen to handle an estate’s business and real estate assets. Her stepson ended up suing her for control of the estate, at which point Whittier was brought in to manage the issues and communicate transparently with both the widow and her stepson.
  5. Choose the right location for your trusts and assets. Trust law is state-specific, with varied rules about how long assets can stay in a trust, whether changes can be made, how investments are to be handled and whether state income taxes are incurred on a trust’s earnings.”One California couple with about $80 million in assets had trusts set up for their two sons with the parents as trustees,” said Frank. “But we showed them that shifting the ownership to corporate ownership by Whittier in Nevada could save them the 13 percent California tax on income the trust generated.”Frank recommends working with a qualified attorney or CPA to understand the tax implications of your estate plan, especially given recent tax changes.”Wealth transfer isn’t a do-it-yourself exercise,” he said.High-net-worth families have much to lose when it comes to passing their wealth down through the generations. Given the complexities they face, they’ll find that the services of an expert management team pay for themselves — and foremost among those services is help drafting that sine qua non of wealth transfer, a watertight estate plan.

Written in partnership with Forbes BrandVoice.

Checklist for a Smooth Estate Transition


  1. Cast a fine net.
  2. Tell your executor or successor where to find everything.
  3. Limit surprises to your heirs.
  4. Think about who will manage everything.
  5. Choose the right location for your trusts and assets.

From Investments to Family Office to Trustee Services and more, we are your single-source solution.

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Nevada is fast-becoming the state of choice for high-net-worth individuals and families seeking greater flexibility, optimal tax savings and maximum protection in their financial and estate planning. Nevada has grown to become one of the most “trust friendly” states in the country and challenging Delaware in popularity as a trust situs.

A Nevada trust situs can offer trustee services and tax planning strategies that protect assets from state tax liabilities and provide benefits such as greater asset protection. They also offer personal trustee options and the ability to prospectively modify existing trust documents to reflect changing laws and circumstances.

Here are seven key features that make a Nevada based trust an exceptional tool for building and preserving wealth:

1. Compounding tax savings

Unlike most states, Nevada does not have a state income tax. A Nevada trust will generally only be accountable for a federal income tax. By comparison, a trust located outside of Nevada may also be responsible for sizable state income tax. The lack of state income tax is important to consider when building comprehensive tax planning strategies, as it has a significantly positive compounding effect on the long-term growth potential of wealth. 

2. Extended perpetuity protection

Nevada law allows interests to be held in trusts for up to 365 years, effectively protecting the transfer of assets from one generation to the next free from tax burdens. California law, by contrast, allows trust protections for only 21 years after the death of the last trust beneficiary who was alive when the trust was created or 90 years after the creation of the trust. There is no federal law against perpetuates

3. Directed trust protection

Nevada is one of only a few states that allows for the use of directed trusts, which allows certain decisions related to the trust to be made by designated advisors. Through a directed trust, investment, distribution and other decisions may be placed in the hands of a family member, a trusted advisor, or long-term business associate, while administrative and other decisions are maintained with the personal trustee. As an example, responsibility for a closely-held business or concentrated holding may be placed with an advisor, while oversight of the broader investment portfolio is given to the personal trustee. Many other states do not have similar directed trust statutes.

4. Decanting and non-judicial settlements option

Trusts are generally formed to continue for many years if not decades, making it difficult to predict the impact of future changes in trust or tax laws. In Nevada, property from one trust can be appointed, or “decanted,” to a second trust to address changes in the law or to simply consolidate or separate assets.

Nevada also has a well-established Non-Judicial Settlement process, which allows interested parties in a trust agreement to correct mistakes, address ambiguities, and change administrative provisions without the need for court approval.

5. Domestic asset protection trust

Nevada is widely considered to be the best jurisdiction for a Domestic Asset Protection Trust. It is one of the only states that has a two-year statute of limitations for existing creditors (versus four years in other states). In many cases, trust property is not subject to the personal obligations of the settlor, even if the settlor suffers a legal judgment or becomes insolvent.

6. Nevada uniform prudent investor act

Nevada’s adoption of the Uniform Prudent Investor Act includes an important provision that a trustee’s decision relating to investments in individual assets must be evaluated, not in isolation, but in the context of the portfolio as a whole. Diversification is generally required unless the purposes of the trust are better served without diversifying. This provides a trust with greater flexibility.

7. Conversion of income interest to unitrust interest

Often, trust beneficiaries have conflicting interests when it comes to income yield and principal growth. Since the personal trustee has a fiduciary duty to both, one option to help resolve the conflict is to convert an income interest trust into a total return trust, also known as a unitrust. Under Nevada law, the unitrust requires an annual or more frequent distribution to the income beneficiary based upon a fixed percentage of the trust’s fair market value. This allows for the opportunity to invest for long-term growth, which benefits the remainder beneficiary, while also meeting the income beneficiary’s needs. A unitrust can also be converted back to the original income trust.

These unique features of a Nevada trust situs offer high-net-worth individuals and families clear advantages in tax planning strategies, seeking to maximize the long-term value of assets and reduce tax exposure, particularly as it pertains to the preservation and growth of inter-generational wealth.

It is important to note that by the very nature of a trust, the decisions made at the time of formation may have a long-lasting impact on assets which, in many cases, cannot be undone. Seeking the assistance of trusted legal, tax and trustee services, as well as financial advisors is critical to ensuring that a Nevada trust is structured to meet the intended goals.

The Nevada Advantage- Seven Key Advantages of a Nevada-Based Trust


  • No state income tax
  • No state inheritance taxes
  • Perpetuity period of 365 years
  • Protection from personal creditors
  • Ability to “decant” property
  • Uniform Prudent Investor Act that measures performance on an entire portfolio
  • Ability to convert an income interest into a unitrust interest
  • Recognition of the use of directed trusts and trust protectors

From Investments to Family Office to Trustee Services and more, we are your single-source solution.

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Thirteen. Ten. Five.

That’s not the start of a riddle, but a sampling of some of the West Coast’s state tax brackets.

Government coffers are really filling up with an increasing portion of your hard-earned dollars.

By design, we have a solution that many of our clients find appealing.

As the largest private trust company in Nevada, Whittier advisors are proud to provide greater flexibility and long-term tax savings to our clients from our offices in Reno, Seattle, and Portland.

Offering the same, and some say better, benefits than its East Coast cousin, more and more individuals are pursuing the Nevada Advantage, which offers progressive laws that promote preserving and growing wealth for future generations.

Like our client who just established a trust for his grandson, knowing that his money would be left to grow for decades before it was needed.

Shifting assets to our Nevada trust is an advantageous strategy for those with no current plans to dispense funds.

Here are a few reasons everyone is buzzing about the Silver State.

Taxes. Taxes. Taxes

We’d argue that Nevada’s tax benefits are the best in the country. The state collects no state income tax for individuals or trusts.

Inheritance taxes? Off the table.

Nevada state law also provides protection from federal or state transfer tax, or state income tax for dynasty trusts through a perpetuity period of 365 years. By comparison, the state of California only grants a period of 21 years after the death of the last beneficiary who was alive when the trust was created, or 90 years after the trust was created itself.

All this boils down to is keeping more of your own money in your pocket, and with those you love.

Friendly Legislation

Considered the best in the country, Nevada offers protection from personal creditors through a Domestic Asset Protection Trust, one of only two states with a two-year statute of limitations for existing creditors (the others have four).

It’s adoption of the Uniform Prudent Investor Act in 1992, also gives trustees the ability to make decisions for the trust in the context of the entire portfolio, not in a silo.

Flexibility in Decision-Making

Above all, Nevada offers flexibility for the ebbs and flows of life that we know are sure to occur.

For example, you have the ability to:

  • convert an income interest into a unitrust interest;
  • establish a directed trust and use trust protectors; and,
  • appoint, or “decant”, property or assets from one trust to a second trust to take advantage of changes in law or resolve problems or issues in existing documents.

Are you talking to your advisor about the Nevada Advantage yet? If not, why delay?

Let’s Talk About Nevada

From Investments to Family Office to Trustee Services and more, we are your single-source solution.

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