Family Dysfunction Part III: Control Freak Fiduciary

Much litigation is created or avoided in the planning process when the people planning for their estate decide who to put in charge.

Words a planner doesn’t want to hear: I appointed my oldest son as trustee/executor.

Two immediate reactions: (1) men are more likely to be control freaks than women, and (2) the oldest child is more likely to be a control freak than any other sibling.  At least that’s my experience (youngest child being second most likely, and middle children being the least).

Of course many oldest male children are solid people and will do the job just fine.  The point is that when we think about who we want to put in charge, it is always best to avoid people with control issues.

The job of trustee/executor is difficult, demanding, and unglamorous.  A true labor of love.  When the person in charge finds pleasure in the process because they get to have control over the other beneficiaries, things usually go badly.

It’s not even necessary that the trustee/executor be doing anything wrong.  The simple refusal to share information can ignite emotional fires, especially when there is a history of overly assertive conduct between the parties/siblings.  When information isn’t shared, when buttons are pushed, when the “mom put me in charge, and now you have to listen to me” card is played, litigation can blossom even if the trustee/executor is paying the bills and moving with some reasonable speed toward settlement.

And let’s not forget the in-laws.  It doesn’t have to be the sibling who causes the problems.  Not uncommon is the spouse of the appointed sibling who asserts control.  Your son (or daughter) is an easy going guy (or gal)- too easy going in fact – his/her spouse walks all over him/her.  You know (or should know) when s/he becomes trustee/executor that in-law will be calling the shots (and pushing the buttons).

My banker friends would want me to note that one way to avoid all of this is to appoint a professional trustee/executor to handle the job, and take this whole control dynamic out of the mix – and that’s certainly a good option to consider.