Planning for Singles and Couples Without Children
For singles and couples without children, having the lawyer as co-trustee sometimes fulfills a needed function.
So whether you are single without children now or become one after your partner dies, your key issue is usually not planning for death or who you are leaving it to. Your key issue is planning for disability. Should you be unable, at some point, to handle your financial and legal affairs due to accident or illness, who will take over? If you don't have a strong plan for disability, an ever-increasing possibility, you are at considerable risk of having a stranger take over your affairs. In the event of disability, virtually any interested party (hospital, doctor, lawyer, social worker, relative, etc.) may initiate a proceeding to have a legal guardian appointed for you. Once you enter into this bureaucratic process, usually involuntarily, it is difficult to extricate yourself and you lose precious control over your affairs.
We often say you are only as strong as your back-up plan. If you have set up a living trust, you may put yourself in charge now, but the trust (instead of the State) says who takes over in the event of disability. You get the person or persons you have chosen, not a court appointed legal guardian, along with the many thousands of dollars in costs that such proceedings entail.
We recommend that you choose two people. One a friend or relative who is willing to undertake the responsibility and then sometimes the estate planning lawyer as co-trustee. The lawyer will not only see to it that the trust is run properly but it takes a considerable amount of the anxiety and responsibility off of your friend or relative who has so kindly agreed to undertake this task. Further, you have two people signing off on all decisions, and everyone knows what two heads are better than. Not only is the possibility of a mistake being made greatly reduced, but it also eliminates the risk of misappropriation of assets.
In some cases, where clients do not have a friend or relative available for this purpose or where they do not want to burden anyone with the responsibility, the estate planning lawyer may act as sole trustee.