For most families, setting up a trust to hold one's property or bank accounts is a prudent step. But when your assets are in the hundreds of millions, setting up a trust (or trusts) is seldom simply an item on your to-do list - it's a must.
As many of you already know, Fox News owner and media mogul Rupert Murdoch is reportedly very close with the Trump family. So close in fact, that when Murdoch was setting up a trust for his two young daughters, his then wife Wendi asked Ivanka Trump to be one of five trustees. As a trustee, Ivanka's role would have been to oversee the prudent management of trust assets, and the appropriate distribution of the trust to its beneficiaries (the two girls). It makes sense that the 85 year-old Murdoch might want to name Trustees who are relatively young and will thus be able to oversee the administration of a trust for his daughters, Grace (15) and Chloe (13), during their lifetimes.
A spokesperson for Ivanka reported that Ms. Trump stepped down as Trustee on December 28th of last year. While Ivanka may no longer be playing the role of Trustee, the story brings up a couple of interesting points about prudent estate planning.
1. While you may not be leaving behind hundreds of millions of dollars, an impartial trustee may still be a great option.
Asking Ivanka Trump to be a trustee is similar to bringing in a neutral third party to manage one's trust. For most families, this would be a professional fiduciary, as opposed to the daughter of a billionaire friend. Bringing in outside parties, who have no personal interest in a trust can make sense. Rupert Murdoch could have simply chosen his older sons, who happen to run several of his businesses, as trustees for his daughters' trust. Or he could have chosen his former wife, Wendi Deng. The fact that he named someone outside the family, who likely has no personal biases toward the daughters, is likely due to the savvy advice of his lawyers.
The bottom line: appointing a neutral third party as trustee or successor trustee is a great way to avoid future trust litigation that may arise because of family relationships or conflicts of interest.
2. Choose Trustees or Successor Trustees who are Younger
The duty of a trustee, or board of trustees in the Murdochs case, is to oversee the management and distribution of a trust's assets. People with older children who are doing a trust for the first time will likely want everything distributed in one lump sum. This means that the trustee (or successor trustee) does not need to be substantially younger than them. As long as named trustees are somewhat younger than the settlor (person setting up the trust), it is likely they will be alive and able to fulfill their role. However, if one's beneficiaries are young, and the settlor wishes for trust assets to be distributed in stages or managed on behalf of the beneficiaries, he or she will need to choose trustees that are young enough to fulfill that role. If one is looking to a neutral third party, this may be accomplished by choosing a trusted fiduciary group.
You probably will not need a board of trustees to manage your childrens' trust. However, it's always prudent to think through potential future conflicts when it comes to choosing trustees. Remember, it is seldom prudent estate planning that results in families being embroiled in trust/estate litigation lawsuits. Bottom line: you can never plan ahead too well.
As for Ivanka and the future of the Murdoch family fortune, we'll just have to keep our eyes peeled and our ears open for future developments.
For questions about Estate Planning, Trust Litigation, or the role of a Trustee, contact my East Bay Trust and Estate Law Firm at 925-322-1795 for a consultation.