Helping Families Flourish


Chicago Trustee Collaboratory BLOG

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  • July 06, 2018 8:24 PM | Jordan Gitelman (Administrator)

    Declaring Independence from Your


    [Editor’s Note: This article was published around the 4th of July, 2017. Given the article’s content, it seems appropriate to reprint it in honor of Independence Day, 2018.]

    How to replace the trustee who isn’t serving the best interests of the family

    Another in the Series on Keys to Successful Trust Administration

    During the course of trust administration, an unproductive relationship may develop between the trustee and the beneficiary.  This fact is not surprising given the sad current reality: few trustees -- including individual and corporate professional trustees -- study how to administer successfully to fulfill the wishes of the grantor to benefit the beneficiary.

    I’ve witnessed too many of these situations where the trustee chooses to ignore or even trample on wholesome options.  Our beneficiary bill of rights offers one statement of the truths of appropriate administration, truths which should be self-evident.

    When confronted with the broken bonds of his relationship with the beneficiary, too often the trustee refuses to simply step aside.

    Many times what motivates a trustee to overstay his or her welcome isn’t clear. It could be he’s seduced by righteousness or by his wrong-headed notions of what the grantor would have wanted. It could be she’s in it for the money or for the exercise of power. It could be some combination of all those. And it could be due to something entirely different. While knowing the exact reason could be useful and perhaps comforting, it is ultimately irrelevant to a family’s pursuit of freedom from this exquisite form of tyranny.

    And so, the question then becomes: if and how to replace the trustee.

    Of course, as in 1776, a good team and counsel can make all the difference.

    Typically this campaign starts with waging war on the battlefield of the legal system through the trust document and the law.  Some consideration, however, first should be given to pursuing a simpler solution: plainly and respectfully asking. I obtained my first assignment as trustee some 30 years ago after the beneficiary simply requested my predecessor resign. That trustee did so, and so my profession began.

    If the request doesn’t work, then consider the legal battlefield.

    Where the trust document provides for a power of appointment to a third party -- such as an elder or a professional acting as trust protector -- the family can seek redress from them. Should the tyrant trustee resist, courts should enforce this peaceful transfer of power. Sadly, too many trusts haven’t been updated to incorporate this modern, healthy safeguard.

    The next option is to assess whether the trustee’s bad behavior constitutes a legal violation. The trustee’s misappropriating the trust assets for his own benefit is the highest treason against his sacred duty to manifest the vision of the grantor for the benefit of the beneficiaries. Courts are generally good in alleviating this perversion, including relieving the trustee from his job.

    Some families expect too much from a judge. Courts generally use a narrow definition of a legal violation, and can’t consider a trustee’s betrayals of his moral, mentoring, empowering and other inescapable roles, unless they constitute violations of his legal duties as well. Further, without evidence of actionable financial or legal wrongdoing, a judge may well add the insult of having the family’s trust pay for the trustee’s legal fees.

    Off the legal battlefield, the campaign to remove the trustee can be waged through a strategy that deploys tactical incentives and disincentives.  As in court, victory, if it comes, will do so in its own time and rely on creativity, persistence and patience – and also carry its own risks and costs, personal as well as financial. Unlike court, the approach is more bespoke, depending on the specific personalities and circumstances at hand.

    Positive incentives can include appeals to the better angel of the trustee, such as offering visions of better administration available from a more suitable trustee.

    The other hand contains the approach summarized by the ancient truism: the squeaky wheel receives the grease. Through application of law-abiding tactics, the trustee is lead to conclude that it’s in his self-interest to resign.

    Whatever the campaign, the beneficiary does well to consider his internal and personal game. This is to own his personal journey and growth, and also to demonstrate due respect for the opinion of others. After all, we should act as if God and the world are watching.

    © Daniel Felix, Felix Group, P.C. 2017 all rights reserved

    Dan P. Felix, Family Trustee, Trust Administrator, Counselor  Dan Felix is an Illinois-based attorney who advises & counsels families and their trustees – and in the right situation serves as trustee or other fiduciary. Dan is also a well-regarded speaker on effective trust administration, addressing families, lawyers, and trust professionals. To contact Dan or find out more about his practice, visit Dan is also the president and founder of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (CTC).

    The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory

    Helping Families Flourish! The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory is a not-for-profit professional association helping families and their trusted advisors understand and manage their family trusts.

  • June 01, 2018 3:51 PM | Jordan Gitelman (Administrator)

    Having “The Talk” For Elder Life Planning

    By Irving S. Capitel & Allen Siegel

    As the end of a life approaches, a certain discussion is needed to put one’s affairs in order. That difficult conversation is essential on two levels. The more challenging level is emotional, as it acknowledges the sad, inevitable ending and begins the process of “closing shop”. Once acknowledged, it opens the door for the pragmatic level − the concrete plans for death, distribution of inheritances, family expectations.  

    The last act drama in the circle of life involves letting go and people respond to it differently. The comfortable acceptance of one’s death requires surrender − giving up control over one’s life. Giving up thoughts of invincibility and recognizing that I am impermanent.

    The reality of our impermanence is referred to as our transience. It has been said the relative comfortable acceptance of one’s dying is probably the most difficult, yet most important psychological accomplishment of a person’s life.

    With the courage to see what’s there to be seen we become able to create a will, or a trust and other “last act” documents that are part of a plan that is needed to protect those we dearly love. It will be easier for everyone when the family has “The Talk,” that gives everyone an opportunity to express their feelings and concerns.

    Disability, death, and money are matters no one likes to talk about but time is essential. The time to talk is now, while everyone is mentally and physically capable. Don’t wait until a crisis impacts your judgment and abilities. It’s critical for you to be proactive rather than reactive. Talk about the challenges of aging and share your feelings about that with your children, your trustee, and your executor. These issues are sensitive and might require a professional to help guide you through the conversation.

    Having said all this, let’s talk about exploring the possible scenarios of Elder Life Planning with the inner circle of family members that can occur in a safe and confidential environment. The focus of “The Talk” is the family’s articulation of issues connected to aging. Who knows what issues will affect you in your elder years, or how they will impact your family members: your spouse, your partner, your children, and your siblings?

    Here is a list of important subjects that are part of the “last act conversation” we suggest you have with your family. They include, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO:

    1. Do you have health care and property powers of attorney?

    2. If so, who are the decision-makers and are they aware of their responsibilities?

    3. Have you communicated your decisions to others?

    4. Do you have thoughts about do-not-resuscitate orders? If so, what are they?

    5. Who will decide whether or not to “pull-the-plug?”

    6. Do you have a prepaid funeral plan? Do you have life insurance and long-

    term health care insurance? Who knows about these items?

    7. Have you decided how to dispose of your earthly remains? How will your memory be maintained?

    8. Who will be helpful in case you need assistance?

    9. What if nursing care is needed?

    10. Who will take responsibility for helping or sharing with the help?

    11. Do you have a will? Who are your beneficiaries? Who is your executor?

    12. Do you have a successor executor?

    13. Do you have a trust? Who is your trustee and your successor trustee?

    14. Do these people know they are named?

    15. Do they know what they all need to do and the extent of their responsibilities? Have you shared your thoughts about how you would like your estate and trust to be administered?

    16. Do trusted people know where your assets are and how property titles are held?

    Is there a family business that needs consideration?

    17. Have you made plans for all of your computer passwords, digital media presence, and getting your “digital affairs” in order?

    18. Ultimately, where is everything? How are things to be handled? What are your wishes and what are theirs and how will these coincide to meet each of your goals?

    A family meeting that considers all these matters actually is an act of love. This list we provide can be your guide. It will help you prepare essential documents.

    Regarding “The Talk”, any family member can initiate it. You can name the time and place of the meeting. An invitation should be extended to everyone whom you believe is an important part of your life and now of your dying. Do this before you go to your estate lawyer to have your final documents drawn up. It will be a tremendous help for you.

    If your family feels overwhelmed by these anticipatory recommendations, this process, as we’ve suggested, can be aided by a skilled, experienced lawyer/mediator who can function as a “neutral” family facilitator.

    To insure that the professionals you engage, if you choose to do that, agree to guide you and not troll for legal referrals, they should not accept any requests for legal representation by any of the participants in the conversation.

    The following questions will help guide you and your family:

    1. Where is everything?

    2. What will need to be done?

    3. Who are the players?

    4. What are they willing to do to help?

    5. What are everyone’s thoughts and how can they work together to accomplish the common goals?

    6. How can the risk of disagreement, misunderstanding, stress, and financial issues be reduced?

    These planning meetings could also include those who you select as your executor and trustee (if applicable). You want everyone involved in your ending process to understand the process so that they can make the administration of events understandable. It will ease the process and make it as smooth as possible.

    Once we deal with our mortality the life we have can get better. Try it and see.

    Irving S. Capitel  Irving is a member of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (CTC).  He can be reached at 847-212-6611

    Allen Siegel   Allen  is a member of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (CTC).

    The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory

    Helping Families Flourish! The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory is a not-for-profit professional association helping families and their trusted advisors understand and manage their family trusts.

  • April 15, 2018 8:04 PM | Jordan Gitelman (Administrator)
    [Editor’s Note: Although the inheritance of an amount of money much larger than what one is used to is brimming with opportunities, the emotional upheaval caused by this type of financial transition requires a calm and cool response. This Chicago Trustee Collaboratory alumni details 6 important steps to take.]



    By Sheldon Zeiger JD, CFP®

    A trust beneficiary can find themselves receiving an amount of money much larger than what they are used to.  This windfall may come in the form of an inheritance or trust distribution. These life changing events are fraught with both opportunity and danger.   The opportunity is to go through this stressful financial transition and come out the other end better in terms of family, security and money. The danger is that this new found wealth will be squandered.

    The emotional upheaval caused by this type of financial transition requires a calm and cool response.  It requires a stabilization process where a beneficiary doesn’t make any decisions that they don’t have to.  It requires that they put their money in a safe haven so that they are given the time to make one good decision at a time.   Some have called this time period a decision free zone but this is a misnomer because this time period is packed with important decisions.  I call this crucial time of reflection an ACTIVE-PAUSE.

    What is an active pause? Buddhist’s describe an active pause as a meaningful pause where one can study his surroundings.  One can take stock in where one is, assess a problem, settle on a future course of behavior and determine life’s direction.   Taoism defines an active pause as a basic law of nature combining supreme activity and supreme relaxation.

    The active pause is the essence of your financial stabilization plan.  The decisions that you make during this planning process are essential in effectively dealing with your windfall. What are the phases of the active pause process

    1. Self-Reflection: The importance of self-knowledge is crucial.  Feel the emotions that your windfall brings. (Guilt, fear, elation etc…) Perhaps prayer or discussions with loved ones can bring clarity.  Therapy may be an important tool in examining your needs and desires.

    1. Goal Setting: What are my full range of possibilities both personally and financially?  You can probably do anything you want but not everything you want.

    1. Financial Team Building:  Trusted advisers, not yes men and women. Objective third parties who can tell you exactly what you have.  You need to find an attorney, CPA and financial planner. A team of experts who not only can give you sound advice but act as a buffer between you and the rest of the world.  Your financial team will also help you establish your goals.

    1. Financial Planning Process:  Create a written financial plan that is consistent with your objectives.  Your plan allows you to unify your personal and financial goals. A blueprint for making all future decisions.

    1. Personal Responsibility: Don’t give up control over your financial windfall.  Your financial life is your responsibility. You assess the risks and rewards of your choices and you make all final decisions. It all starts with your financial education.

    1. Have Some Fun:  Happiness is the ultimate currency. The active pause is not about denial. There is no reason not to have some fun during this process.  Using a small amount your windfall for a family vacation or buying a toy can help dedicate you to the process.

    You may ask yourself, how long should my active pause process take?  The answer is unique to every individual but some rules of thumb apply.   Long enough for you to decide what you really want. Long enough for you to create and embrace your financial plan.   Especially take as long as necessary to feel confident that you’re spending and investing with purpose. Your active pause creates an environment where you can make informed decisions regarding your life and your money.   

    Sheldon Zeiger JD, CFP®  is an accomplished professional with a diverse background encompassing legal practice, financial planning, corporate compliance and education. His focus is on building and maintaining long-term relationships. Sheldon has been a valued member of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (CTC).

    Author of: The Eye Inside Personal Finance: Discovering the Connection Between Our Financial and Spiritual Lives


    The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory

    Helping Families Flourish ! The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory  is a not-for-profit professional association helping families and their trusted advisors understand and manage their family trusts.

  • June 24, 2016 7:55 PM | Deleted user

    Playing by the rules isn’t enough in family trusts. Instead, a family benefits from defining what constitutes winning. That’s the message from the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (“CTC”).  In this video clip from a recent CTC meeting, Daniel P. Felix sums up the thought. Dan is an attorney, a trustee and advisor to families, and current President of the CTC.

    The CTC continues to lead the discussion around building family trusts that work. The CTC has launched a quarterly series examining the components of successful private trusts. Developed in cooperation with the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (“IICLE”). For more information (including copies of DVD’s) click here:

    To view the video, click here.

  • June 14, 2016 6:58 PM | Deleted user

    Many find themselves having to discuss elder life planning under crisis circumstances.  This article explores how to lead inner circle family members through the critical questions that will inevitably need to be addressed, in a safe and organized way.  A comprehensive list of questions, covering the important issues is presented, with practical advice for addressing family members concerns.

    By Irv Capitel

    Click here to read article

  • May 24, 2016 6:38 PM | Deleted user

    A family can enjoy a successful trust by building Clarity, Consensus and Competence. That’s the message from the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (“CTC”).  In this video clip from a recent CTC meeting, Daniel P. Felix sums up the thought. Dan is an attorney, a trustee and advisor to families, and current President of the CTC.

    Click here to view the video

  • May 03, 2016 8:04 PM | Deleted user

    The emotional upheaval caused by a large distribution of cash requires a calm and cool response.  The beneficiary requires a stabilization process where he is given the time to make one good decision at a time.  The active-pause is ancient wisdom where on takes stock I one is, assess a problem and settle on a future course of behavior.  The article discusses the six phases of the financial stabilization process.  

    Click here to read full article

  • March 29, 2016 1:20 PM | Daniel P. Felix (Administrator)

    Cathy Carroll spoke with Nicole Martin of HR Boost about what makes leadership in a family business unique.  The interview aired on Advisor TV on December 3, 2015.

    A member of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory, Cathy is the founder of Legacy Onward which brings leadership and executive coaching services to family businesses.

    To view the interview, click here.

  • March 01, 2016 1:00 PM | Daniel P. Felix (Administrator)
    A family trust has lots of rules – but who wins? When can you say a trust is “successful”?  In the first of a series of articles, Daniel P. Felix, JD and Professional Trustee, offers some thoughts.

    The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (“CTC”) has addressed this core concern. Besides being a continuing theme at monthly meetings, members of the CTC conducted a full-day seminar on various Keys to Successful Trust Administration.  The seminar was produced in collaboration with the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (“IICLE”), and you can get more information, including a recording here   

    To read the article, click here.

  • February 02, 2016 12:43 PM | Daniel P. Felix (Administrator)

    This article outlines five pitfalls to avoid in succession planning

    of a family business.

    Cathy Carroll wrote this article for the National Automatic Merchandising Association.  

    A member of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory, Cathy is the founder of Legacy Onward which brings leadership and executive coaching services to family businesses.

    Read the full article by clicking here.

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