My Dad Doesn’t Trust Me Re: Our Trust

TO: Logan
FROM: Jay
SUBJECT: no subject

When my grandfather died, the family was shocked to discover he had left a considerable amount of money behind. Really, no one saw this coming. But it was basically set up in various trusts for his two sons and their children (so, one for my dad and me, one for his brother and his two daughters). I signed on as a trustee, but my dad is pretty much silent on what that means for me, or really any details. Any time I ask how much I/we have access to, he gives some answer along the lines of, “Don’t you worry about it,” or “When you’re ready to buy a house just come to me and I’ll write you a check,” which is very generous, but also unhelpful. How do I get a clear answer?

TO: Jay
FROM: Logan
SUBJECT: no subject

The comments are going to have good advice on this. Read the comments for sure. Also, know that this situation is pretty typical. I’ve chatted with a bunch of young people with trust funds or access to family money, and it’s a theme that they feel like they’re kept from knowing specifics about the money. You are not alone!

Here’s what I think you should do, based on nothing except my feelings: I think you should tell your dad that you’re spending a lot of time thinking and worrying about the future, and that it would help you plan for your future if you knew more about this trust. Is it enough that you shouldn’t be worrying at all? Is it enough that you could buy a house one day? Is it enough that you could buy a house today? What are you working with? I think you can do this over email, or the phone, or in person. But I think the key point to get across is that you’re spending a lot of time worried, and you think your dad has some information that will help you stop worrying.

Also: I’m thinking that if I were in this situation I’d be tempted to do some posturing about being an adult and signing on as a trustee and deserving to have the information myself because I’m a grownup—I don’t know if you are feeling this way. But if you are, I think you should try hard to avoid that line with your dad. It sounds like he just doesn’t want you worry about this, that he’s trying to protect you from having to worry about the trust. But he needs to know you’re worrying anyway, and that you’d feel a lot better if you knew the facts.

Hope this works! Write back if your dad is still like, nope I’ll never tell! And read the comments.

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

If you are the trustee of an account, I would think you’d have access to the details. While ideally your father could just share this information, you aren’t without the ability to call the legal/financial institution that holds the trust and ask for specifics.

Having said that, if you are under 30 years old, it’s possible your father doesn’t want this money (assuming it’s substantial) to impact the choices you make as a young adult. Perhaps he feels you might be less ambitious if you thought a large amount of money was waiting for you.

And a third point. Your father most likely considers this his money. That was his dad and this is his inheritance. Therefore, your father will share it with you for certain wise financial moves (like buying a house), but he may not want you to have the impression that you two are equal partners. My father has never shared his money with me under the premise that I will get it when he’s done with it. I say, fair enough.

BillfoldMonkey (#1,754)

@Leigh Devereaux@facebook Agreed, if you are a trustee I don’t understand why you can’t just call the institution that adminsters the trust and get the scoop.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@Leigh Devereaux@facebook Agreed, as a trustee you have the right to access this information directly, I would reach out to the bank if you want to know more. Your dad may have good reasons for keeping this information vague but legally you’re entitled to know if you’re an equal trustee.

In regards to Leigh’s third point, it’s true that your dad my regard this as “his” inheritance which he will share with you. However, what really matters is what your grandfather intended. It was his money, and if he made you an equal trustee then that’s the wish that has to be honoured.

Cosigned – as a trustee you should have access to that information.

“When you’re ready to buy a house” ….. I went through this same issue, not with a trust which has a lot more sticky legal issues to contend with, but my mum offered to cover my down payment for a house but wouldn’t tell me how much was available. I was like, how can I know if I can afford a house if I don’t know if the funds will cover a 20% down payment? I got a little sneaky on her: I told her I was ready to put an offer down (and actually did make an offer and went back and forth a few times with negotiations, but ultimately backed out). But then I knew how much was available and did eventually buy a house – which I then sold 2 years later after the co-owner and I broke up, and now that money’s sitting in index funds while my broken heart mends. Anyway, if the money is for a house (which, based on the trust, you may have to use it for a house? idk, trusts are crazy) and you don’t think you’ll be buying one any time soon, and you for some reason don’t have access to that information even as a trustee, then just pretend the money’s not there because it’s not.

TheEdge (#5,372)

There’s not enough information here for me to be able to say I am in exactly this situation, but I have been in a situation where my Dad hinted for many years that there would be money coming to all of his children, and then he got angry, and divorced, and as far as I know (we don’t talk now!) has given all of the money to the daughter who promises to make decisions about money that are as bad as the decisions he has made. So for your sake I hope your Dad is not hopeless with money.

I am an economist and my partner is an economist and we really like to talk about money – not in a acquisitive way; usually in a ‘aren’t people funny about money’ way. I would love to have talked that easily about money with my family, but we never did that because Dad believes that money causes fights. I believe that not talking easily about money causes fights. So regardless of whether you have a trust or not, I think learning to talk about money, and to converse with your parents about money, is essential. This could take years, by the way, depending on how much baggage people in your family have about talking about money (it sounds as if your grandfather didn’t talk about money – you can often see this sort of thing going back for generations).

One thing that helped me was a Suze Orman book (I forget the title) that described how people react differently to money – some with anger, some with fear etc. It helps to know your own emotions towards money, and those of the people you have a financial relationship with, like your parents.

That’s the emotional stuff, which is important to be aware of when you are talking to your Dad. Then there is the decision making stuff, which is about finding out where you stand. This includes your legal rights and protections. I wasn’t clear whether your grandfather intended for you to receive a sum directly, or to receive a residual from the amount given to your father.

These situations can be emotionally draining because they are so uncertain. If the terms of the trust are such that you don’t have a defined entitlement, then I think you have to assume you will get nothing – then anything you do get is a windfall. If the trust says you are getting $x in year y, then it could be good to start thinking about what you would do with the money.

Sometimes when I really want something expensive, I put it on a list. Then I find the list 6 months later and realise that not only have I lived without it, but I no longer want it. So if you’re thinking ‘I’ll buy a house’, talk to lots of people who bought houses – e.g. people your age or in your profession, and ask them how it turned out. I have lived in 4 countries in the last 3 years, so a house is not as good an investment for me as an ETF.

Also, this website is a great place to hang out and read about money and see people having really interesting conversations about money. Be like these people.

Lastly, boundaries. If it’s your Dad’s money, it’s your Dad’s money. If it’s your money, it’s your money and you can and should be informed about it. If it’s your money but your Dad is some way in charge of what happens with it for the time being, build a relationship with your Dad over it, and take some time doing it. Money is cool, and money can bring people together and enrich their lives, ad even though talking about it makes some people uncomfortable, I think finances are easiest when you look them in the eye. It sounds to me as if you are asking the right questions… good luck with it!

aetataureate (#1,310)

@TheEdge I’m sorry about what sounds like a really stressful situation with your dad, but your advice is so great and multifaceted, thank you!

TheEdge (#5,372)

@aetataureate Why thank you! It makes me absurdly happy to know that all the stress could end up as useful advice :)

plenarilypillory (#5,270)

Get an attorney to review the trust agreement. There are provisions in the document that an attorney will know how to look for – whether a trustee can act alone, whether the trust is primarily for your father’s benefit and only secondarily for your benefit, whether you may act as trustee before a certain age, and so forth. Having reviewed those provisions, an attorney may be able to tell you whether your father is screwing you over. Then you can hire the attorney to sue for breach of fiduciary duty, which is always funbags. Best of luck.

TheEdge (#5,372)

@plenarilypillory I think this is really good advice, but it doesn’t sound as if this is a case of going to an attorney to see if ‘father is screwing you over’. How about, go with your father to an attorney, and have the attorney to explain the trust agreement to both of you at once. Then (a) father and son are on the same page about the trust, (b) father can see son taking a mature interest in the trust and develop confidence that the son is capable of handling money and (c) they both start developing a relationship with an attorney who can help out in the future if things go wrong. A breach of fiduciary duty is a risk in this case, but taking an adversarial stance in the first instance could make things go wrong very quickly. I also agree with @jpaschal, but I think that unless there is evidence that the father is acting against the son’s interest, why not start on the same team and with the same attorney?

jpaschal (#5,379)

I am in agreement with the comment above – you need to get a copy of the Trust document and have an attorney review it for you. You’re never going to fully understand the situation without it. But, a couple of points to keep in mind:

1) Are you a primary or contingent beneficiary? Trusts can be set up in many different ways. You indicated that your grandfather set up several trusts, one of which was for you and your father. Are you a primary beneficiary with your father, meaning you have the right to distributions in accordance with the terms of the trust? Or are you only a contingent beneficiary, meaning that you will only be entitled to assets from the trust in the event your father passes away and there are assets left? If you’re only a contingent beneficiary, the amount of money in the trust is irrelevant to you in that capacity because that same amount may not even be there when your father passes away. If you’re only a contingent beneficiary, it isn’t worth getting into a disagreement with your dad over his unwillingness to disclose trust asset information to you, because as a contingent beneficiary only, you don’t have any right to know.

2) Knowing what kind of beneficiary you are is also important because if you are a primary beneficiary, you are (most likely) entitled to an accounting from the trustee on an annual basis of the trust assets. Again, the language of the trust itself is important in relation to things like this, but in most situations a beneficiary has that right.

3) Are you a current Trustee or a Successor Trustee? You indicated that you signed on as Trustee – I’m assuming you are currently serving as Co-Trustee with your father. If that is the case, you should meet with an attorney to discuss what your responsibilities are as Co-Trustee. Many times Trustees have a duty to the beneficiaries to preserve the trust assets. Failure to do so can result in liability to the beneficiaries. Now, if you and your dad are the only beneficiaries, it’s probably not a huge concern, but it is important that you know the extent of your role. If, for some reason, you are only a successor Trustee – meaning you will step in to serve if your father can’t – then you don’t need to be as concerned, but a conversation with an attorney would still be beneficial for you – especially if your father were to become unable to serve and you were then responsible for making distributions to him.

4) If you are a Current Co-Trustee with your father, you most likely have the same authority to deal with the trust assets as he does. So if you were really curious, you would be able to go to the institutions holding the trust assets and get any information related to them you’d like.

As an attorney that deals with trusts and estates, I can say with certainty that you need to get a copy of the trust document and meet with an attorney if you are adamant about knowing the trust assets. Only an estate planning attorney will be able to really give you good input on what your rights and responsibilities are.

I can also say that no amount of money is worth poisoning your relationship with your family over, so you need to be tactful in how you approach the issue. Money and family are extremely volatile, and it sounds like your dad is already a little defensive about things. I’ve seen these situations result in total family meltdowns. My suggestion is this: have an honest conversation with your dad. Tell him that you want to know more about your responsibilities as Trustee, and that you would like to be kept in the loop on things so that you will be prepared to step in and act competently in the event something happens to him. If you approach less from the standpoint of “what’s coming to me?” and more from the standpoint of “I want to be ready for this responsibility” or “I want to participate as Trustee and to be responsible” it may help your dad see that it’s less about the money and more about being involved.

If he isn’t responsive to that, know this: as Trustee (again, assuming you are a current and not successor Trustee) you have the right to a copy of the Trust Agreement. You can contact the attorney that drafted the document and request a copy. But be mindful of how you proceed and how you continue interacting with your father.

AND BE SURE TO TALK TO AN ATTORNEY.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@jpaschal Great advice — and it offends me kind of philosophically that the dad would be handwavey about such a big legal situation. “Don’t worry about it”? People can’t even split checks without it turning into a Thing a lot of the time!

ragazza (#4,025)

Transparency and communication is super important when it comes to money. My brother and I had a bad experience after my mother died–a family member had to be subpoenaed (sp?) to give us items he had taken that were left to us in her will. Ever since then, we have unfortunately learned to be wary when it comes to things like inheritances. So I say get everything in writing, absolutely assert yourself to find out what is due to you, find out what is going on, etc. Trust but verify!

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