Trusts Gone Right

Trusts Gone Right

Positive stories deepen our understanding of flourishing beneficiary-trustee relationships.

The “Beneficiary and Trustee Positive Story Project” went public in this space on Dec. 18, 2012. In that first column, I introduced you to the project by describing my drive, carried out with various colleagues, to collect stories that illuminate the beneficiary-trustee relationship at its best.

Sometimes in the mainstream media, and certainly by word of mouth (including war stories at professional conferences), we’d long since had our fill of the other kind of story. After enough tales that climax in an unhappy ending, one is almost ready to subscribe to a modification of Murphy's Law: “If anything can go wrong, ‘trust’ that it will.”

Positive Stories

There was a better way—indeed, hundreds of better ways—and some of us knew families who’d figured it out. So I went after these positive stories and was fortunate enough to have a structure that facilitated realism even as it preserved confidentiality.

I chose to focus on positive stories not to promote the wearing of rose-colored glasses, but because the stories deepen our understanding of the circumstances that underlie flourishing beneficiary-trustee relationships. These real-life stories would be a counterbalance to all the distressing tales of trusts gone wrong.

We went to the source—beneficiaries, trustees and their advisors—asking them for positive stories about moments in time when their relationships worked well. Stories, for example, that highlighted:

  • Strengths of the beneficiary, the trustee or their relationship;
  • Beneficiaries and trustees having successfully worked through challenges; and
  • Beneficiary-trustee relationships that enhanced a beneficiary’s life.

Each story had something to teach. Each story revealed its own wisdom. And the storytellers inspired our readers. Once 25 first-rate stories had been gathered, “TrustWorthy,” a book with which many readers of this column are familiar, was published.

More on the Way

Hard to believe, but it’s been more than six years since I began circulating these stories. Now, with the release of “Family Trusts—A Guide” (Wiley/Bloomberg Press 2016), the focus of the “Beneficiary and Trustee Positive Story Project” broadens. During 2016-2017, I’ll add stories that bring to life state-of-the-art ideas spotlighted by the authors.

The Agenda

Here’s the agenda: In addition to stories shedding light on flourishing beneficiary-trustee relationships, I’ll collect accounts from a wider range of storytellers. Raconteurs will include beneficiaries, trustees, trust creators, trust protectors, trust committee members and advisors—plus others who have firsthand experience with:

  • Distributions that enhanced a beneficiary’s life—in particular when the trustee’s decision was aided by input from a distribution committee, family member, family office or professional advisor;
  • Effective mentoring of a beneficiary by a trustee, trust protector, trust committee or other person connected with the beneficiary’s trust; and
  • Trust protectors who mediate and transcend beneficiary-trustee disputes or find a way to bring new life to old trusts.

The goal is to make new stories widely available so that we, along with our readers, may continue to identify best practices and develop practical applications. 

Do you have a story or know someone who has a story to contribute? If so, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. And, please don’t forget, the process is respectful of storytellers at each and every stage.

I’ll interview you (or the source you recommend, if they decide to go ahead) and produce a first draft that’s true to what has been shared with me. The storyteller is given an opportunity to edit that draft to ensure: (1) the story is told the way they would like, and (2) that the confidentiality of the storyteller and of individuals mentioned in the story are securely preserved.

Storytellers control final edits of their stories. In the rare instance in which a storyteller has second thoughts (which, by the way, has happened just one time), at their request the story will be quashed, never seeing the light of day.

Check back in the coming months. I’ll let you know how this next phase of the project is progressing. After six years, there’s absolutely no doubt about it: Positive stories deepen our understanding of flourishing beneficiary-trustee relationships.

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