Who do you trust?
Who can you entrust with your most precious possessions? Personal well-being? Family?
A good estate plan will require the nomination of a representative to act on your behalf, and you will additionally be asked whether you want to list any alternates in case your first choice is unable to do the job. For some, the nomination of executors, trustees, agents, guardians, and attorneys-in-fact is the most difficult stage of the estate planning process. This is caused by the gravity of the position, and sometimes a deficit of trustworthy individuals in a person’s life.
What does it mean to trust? Trust means you hold a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something” (see “trust”). The degree in which you feel you can trust someone depends upon the gravity of the task you are entrusting the individual to carry out. For example, you will trust almost anyone to make a hamburger for you, but you are likely to be more selective if shopping for someone to do surgery (Are they a doctor? Have they done this before? Are they new?).
When we talk about trust, we are really talking about stewardship. Recall the Parable of the Master Going on a Journey that Jesus taught us (it’s short, you could read it: Matthew 25:14-30). After entrusting servants with bags of gold in various amounts (according to their ability), the Master goes on a journey for an unknown period of time, then returns to settle the accounts with each servant. The Master says “well done, good and faithful servant!” to those that did well with what was entrusted to them. To the one that hid the Master’s gold in the ground and merely returned it without interest it was said, “you wicked, lazy servant!” Jesus goes on to tell us that we too have been entrusted many things from our Heavenly Father, and we do not know when our Master will return. Take a moment to inventory your life. When you think about it, you are already a “trustee.”
Try our Personal Inventory Tool.
Christians have been charged to make the best of what they are given, and they also have a responsibility to ensure their families are being cared for and adequately maintained. The Bible says “all must provide for their own first, especially their own family.” (1 Timothy 5:8). Also, parents are to provide for their own children. (2 Corinthians 12:14). How can you locate someone you trust to continue to serve in your absence? There are two ways:
- You find them somewhere out in the world and invest in them, or
- You make them yourselves.
In either event you are essentially looking at the process of discipleship, as modeled by Jesus Christ and the Disciples, the process by which a person follows and learns from a teacher, leader, or philosopher (see “disciple”, see also, e.g., the New Testament). The bottom line is that your trustee must be trusted to do exactly as you provide in your estate plan. If there’s something grey or ambiguous, they must be trusted to fill in the gap appropriately. They must know what you would want to be done under special circumstances, if such circumstances were to arise. Here are some general qualities of good trustees:
- Trustees truly care about your priorities, with enthusiasm, and demonstrate their commitment.
- Trustees truly understand your priorities, your mission, and can articulate it.
- Trustees must be objective, impartial, and not prone to special interests, temperamental bias or personal whim.
- Trustees must have the basic skills and core competencies to pursue your plan, such as management skills, investment experience, budgeting, legal expertise, or the wisdom to know when to seek help.
- Co-trustees must be team players, able to resolve personal differences with others, and ready work as a single unified body.
- Trustees must be ready and willing to work, understanding the scope of their responsibilities, and able to adjust their personal schedules to accommodate the time and energy to serve in their role.
- Trustees must have practical wisdom, can keep the big picture in mind, distinguish between principle and expediency, and translate your ideals into solutions in the “real” world.
- They should be younger than you, because they must live longer than you.
In summary, selecting executors, trustees, agents, guardians, and attorneys-in-fact is just as important is determining where you want your things to go. Pray for guidance, invest in others, monitor people’s stewardship in life, and make a decision.
Who you pick to manage in your absence matters, a lot, so start training your successor trustee today.
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Go back to Part I: What does the Bible say about legacies and estate planning?
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