by Ronald Farrington Sharp
Reviewed by Jon Ford, CFP®
Jon Ford, CFP®, owner of CF Financial Planning Solutions, Inc. in Mesa, Arizona, writes a regular "Financial Fundamentals" column for the Cedar Falls Times in Iowa.
Is there any among us who doesn't know that a conversation of living trusts should be a part of our clients' financial planning? My guess is that this is an area we touch on lightly when with clients and off-handedly defer to "client attorneys." We assume clients have legal counsel who actually understands when to use living trusts.
This is a strange way to begin a book review, but the fact is I'm guilty and until reading the book I didn't realize my own vacuum of understanding in this area of estate planning. We know attorneys who always recommend living trusts and others who view living trusts as redundant when a client creates a will and powers of attorney, and uses titling and beneficiary designations wisely. Until reading this book it hasn't been our style to question attorney decision-making in estate planning matters.
The author is an attorney who clearly understands estate planning problems and circumstances in a way that goes beyond technical expertise. His clear and concise writing has the potential to educate and help the "ninety-five percent of the population that has done no estate planning." (His words-but doesn't this include nearly all of our clients at the first meeting?) This book will help us get the message to them.
In a dozen chapters and three appendices, Sharp details the advantages of a trust primarily in terms of asset management, tax consequences, probate avoidance, and court-ordered conservatorship avoidance should disability ever occur. Privacy, ease of administration, lowered risk of someone contesting, and lessened time delays are all pointed out as additional benefits. These things we know.
This book also details how some attorneys unscrupulously capitalize on ignorance and death among clients by assembling a "Will File" that forces families to come to the attorney when members begin to die off. This creates a built-in probate practice for the attorney. Sharp says this "sleazy tactic" still exists at a time when lawyer image is already tarnished. This we didn't know.
The book begins by defining terms so we're all on the same page. The title Living Trusts for Everyone is a bit misleading because although we are told when clients must have a trust, the circumstances are also described for which no living trust is needed. It describes the heightened caution needed if attending free-meal trust seminars, selecting trustees, funding the trust, guardians, powers of attorney, potential problems, and the importance of accurate instructions for trustees.
This book won't turn us into estate planning attorneys, but it will aid us and in turn our clients locate one who can help, and once found, to ask the right questions. As for me and my family, we are deciding which of three attorneys in our area to call. Each has earned board certified specialization in estate and trust law. Better late than never.
Allsworth Press (2010)