In our previous post, we began looking at a recent Forbes article discussing surprisingly helpful estate planning lessons drawn from a recent George Clooney film which was nominated for Oscars in five different categories. The name of the film is “The Descendants.”
Another one of the lessons drawn with the film is that joint ownership of land can often be problematic, particularly among family members or individuals who do not get along well. The form of joint ownership mentioned in the film is tenancy in common.
A tenancy in common means that each co-owner owns part of the property as an undivided interest. In this form of joint ownership, there is no right of survivorship, so a deceased tenant’s interest in the property will go to his or her estate. In the absence of a restriction or common agreement, a tenant may also sell or otherwise dispose of their interest in the property during their lifetime. This can easily lead to problems when tenants have disagreements about what to do with the property as a whole.
The difficulty posed by long-term trusts is another issue raised in the film. One of these is determining what the person who establishes and funds a long-term trust would want to do with the trust assets down the road. While not mentioned in the film, another difficulty with long-term trusts is that of selecting successor trustees. One can select individual trustees or corporate trustees, or a combination, but both ways have their benefits and weaknesses.
The final lesson the author draws form the film is related to the last one: a trustee must be objective. This is critical, because their management of the trust assets has nothing to do with their own benefit. They must act always in the best interests of the beneficiaries and avoid conflicts of interest.
The various lessons pulled out of this film could certainly be helpful to keep in mind, depending on one’s financial and family situation. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney will ensure that these things into account in the way that works to achieve your goals.
Source: Forbes, “‘The Descendants’ Buries Estate Planning Lessons in George Clooney Drama,” Deborah L. Jacobs, February 2, 2012.