Monday, August 24, 2015

More on Being a Trustee

Ok, so we left off with the big package of legal documents arriving for me to sign.
First, there was the irrevocable trust document. This spelled out that my mother was putting $350,000 in this trust and waiving all rights and title to the principal forever. It names me as trustee, and talks about various ways I’m allowed to make decisions about investing the money. It says I have to distribute net income quarterly to my mother, and provide a full accounting of the trust’s transactions annually. There’s also a lot of stuff about how a the trustee can be changed later if necessary, and what happens if I die, etc. It names my sister and me as the beneficiaries and that the principal will be paid to us equally after my mother’s death.
Then there’s the revocable trust. This money still belongs to my mother during her lifetime, but I am the trustee managing it. My sister and I are the beneficiaries after she dies. This trust is just to simplify things and avoid probate when my mother dies. But it’s also a very good thing to have a trustee in control so that my mother can’t just spend all the money without consulting someone else. This may become awkward in the future if my mother wants to spend money and I don’t think she should.
The final documents in the package were my mother’s last will and testament, and a durable power of attorney authorizing me to act as her agent. The will will cover any property of hers that is not held in the name of the revocable trust. If those assets are less than $25,000, then it goes through a “simple probate” process that is easier than for a larger estate. So we’re supposed to keep my mother’s assets under her own name at less than $25,000 but of course she had last minute cold feet about putting the full amount she’d intended into the revocable trust, so she actually has more like $40,000 in her own account— or at least she did when this all happened. Who knows how much of it she’s spent by now! I keep reminding her that the revocable trust funds can be paid out to her any time but she still doesn’t want to transfer her extra cash. I asked a couple of times then decided to let it go for a while as she seemed to be starting to think I was being morbid about it!
The final item in the package was two checks from my mother’s account, one for $350,000 made out to the irrevocable trust (“The [Madame X’s Mom] Irrevocable Trust of 2015”) and one for $100,000 made out to the revocable trust “The [Madame X’s Mom] Trust of 2015.”

The irrevocable trust has its own tax ID number, which the lawyer also sent to me a few days later. Once I had that, I went to the bank to set up checking accounts for each trust. It took about an hour and a half to do all the set-up paperwork at the bank— they had to fax the documents to their legal department to make sure everything was in order, in addition to all the usual account paperwork.  But once that irrevocable trust check was deposited, it started the clock ticking for Medicaid’s 5-year look-back period, in the event that my mother ever needs to apply for it.

After the checks cleared and I’d received new checkbooks in the name of each trust, I opened a Vanguard account for each trust. I picked a variety of mutual funds, including some that have the goal of maximizing dividend income. I did put some of the money in funds that seek growth and have higher levels of risk, but I steered away from the riskiest ones, and also put some money into lower-risk bond funds. I do want to make the principal grow, but I also want to make sure the investments generate some income for my mom. I am a little worried about how the first few months will go— it’s unfortunate that the stock market has taken some plunges exactly after I invested this money, so my returns are somewhat negative so far. I personally am a pretty calm investor— I always try to look at the long term and not panic during down times, but I’m worried about how this will appear to my mom and anyone else whom she might tell. If I say “ok, mom, I took $450,000 of your money and invested it, and all I have to show is a $5,000 loss after 6 months,” she may just think I don’t know what I’m doing, regardless of whether I point out that the entire market is down, and that any other financial advisor would have been likely to have similar results. I am kind of wishing I’d weighted the portfolio even more towards the bond funds vs. the others, given that the stock market was at historic highs when I was putting all this money in. Perhaps that is what a professional advisor would have counseled… but perhaps not, and I have to keep reminding myself, and my mom if necessary, that we’re still ahead by a percentage point or two just by not having to pay someone else’s fees to manage the money.

There will be more to talk about in the coming months, as I figure out whether and when to distribute income to my mother, how to deal with tax issues for the trust, and other questions. I’ll keep you posted!

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