by Paul J. Schwab, III

Some attorneys are fortunate enough to work with admirable clients, Andy (whose real name has been protected) was such a client.  I was the lucky attorney given the opportunity to help Andy accomplish his charitable goals by providing estate planning, real estate and dispute resolution services.

Andy was single and had no children. He operated his family’s fruit farm on approximately 70 acres in Baltimore County where he was born until he lost his eyesight.

Andy, who was legally blind, came to me to review his Will when he was 90 years old. He was surprised to learn that after his death, a majority of his assets would go through probate and be distributed to a trust controlled by his former attorney. The trust could continue for up to ten years after his death and distributions would be made to charities determined by the attorney.

After reviewing the time and expense of probate, its public nature and the annual accounting, commissions and other expenses associated with a multi-year trust, Andy decided on a plan that allowed him to keep control over his assets during his life and have them distributed outside of probate after his death. The plan had two parts. The first step was creating a revocable trust that he controlled during his lifetime. The trust agreement specified which friends and family would receive cash bequests after his death and how the balance would be divided among his selected charities. The agreement also designated a trusted friend to serve as the successor trustee after Andy’s death, and authorized the trustee to obtain any legal, tax and other assistance information. The second part of the plan was changing the title to the farm and designating the trust as the death beneficiary for certain accounts.

The plan avoided the time and expense of probate and kept his wishes and the value of his assets private. Even with this carefully drafted estate plan, the successor trustee still faced many challenges on which she needed legal assistance. One main issue was the sale of the farm and the old farmhouse. With a number of neighbors and others expressing interest in acquiring the farm, the trustee had it appraised, and then asked me to see if the trust could sell it without the expense of a real estate agent by a private auction. This would increase the amount donated to the charities. I provided a summary to the potential purchasers outlining the expected terms of the sale including: “all cash, no financing contingency, as is sale, quick settlement and no real estate commission paid by the seller.” After some negotiation, the property was sold to a young couple who was excited to own the former fruit and renovate the farmhouse.

In his final years, Andy would give money to a farmhand for the purchase of food for 19 feral cats that lived on or around his farm. Unfortunately, Andy never mentioned the cats to the successor trustee or included any provision in the trust agreement for their care. After Andy’s death, the neighbor to whom the farmhand gave the food money presented the trustee with a claim on behalf of a charity for food, relocation and veterinary care of the cats for the rest of their lives. While the cats were not Andy’s and the trust was not legally obligated to honor the neighbor’s claim, the trustee knowing of Andy’s charitable nature and receiving proof of the veterinary and other care furnished to the cats, entered into a settlement and the reimbursed the charity for these expenses.

I am glad that with my guidance and assistance and the trustee’s diligent efforts, we were able to accomplish the charitable farmer’s wishes and materially benefited his specified charities.