Several years ago I received a call at my offices. The man on the line was angry.
"My name is Matt Smith," he said. "My grandmother just died and left a trust, giving me everything. But she put a neighbor of hers in charge of the trust and he wont give me any of my money.
The phrase "my money" didnt set right with me, but I would postpone . Maybe the trustee was not following the provisions of the trust. I invited Matt to come into the office and bring a copy of the trust.
Matt was younger than I expected. He was about 28 years old, tall, good looking, and he had a certain healthy bounce to his step. I invited him to take a chair. He sat down, tipped the chair so it was resting on the back two legs, and began to rock back and forth.
As Matt rocked, he complained that the trustee was really giving him a hard time. He was anxious for me to jump all over the guy, get his grandmother's money, and turn it over to him.
I began to examine the trust document. It was properly signed and notarized, and Grandmother had no named beneficiaries other than Matt. I turned to the disposition provisions and read: "At my death, the Trustee shall distribute all my assets to my grandson, Matthew L. Smith, subject to the following conditions:"
"Ohh," I thought. "Conditions! This should be interesting." The first condition was simple and clear: "The trustee shall distribute all my assets to Matthew, on the condition that Matthew is gainfully employed." The second condition required the Trustee to distribute trust funds only in an amount that would match Matts income as reported on his annual 1040.
The question had to be asked. I looked at Matt. "Are you gainfully employed?" Matt dropped the chair to all four legs, leaned forward, put his left hand behind his lower back and said, "I cant work; I'm disabled; I have a bad back."
All litigators have to make judgments in deciding whether to represent an individual. I made my judgment right then.
"Matt," I said, "the trustee has absolute authority to deny you one dime of your grandmother's assets so long as you are not gainfully employed."
Matt's voice rose as he insisted that he could not work. "I have medical records. I'm receiving disability income." As I considered this, he practically yelled, "This trustee is being completely unreasonable!"
"Well, Matt, there are lots of jobs you can get that won't strain your back."
"Yeah, like what?"
I replied, "you know, you can retain me or any other attorney to fight the trustee, and you will lose. There is no judge that is going to overturn this document, especially when it is so clear. You just need to get a job."
Matt jumped up to leave. As he walked out the conference room with that healthy bounce in his step, I couldn't help myself: "Matt," I said, "I think your grandmother knew you very well."
You may not have a Matt in your family. But you do have people you care about as much as Virginia cared about her grandson. Estate planning is a gift, one of the most unselfish gifts you can give. To learn how to give this gift wisely to your loved ones, invest some time to learn the basics of estate planning. It really is true that accurate knowledge blesses people.