Generative trustee takes on key role

Steve Gammill
Steve Gammill

Jeanne, an older client of mine, asked a very good question as we wrapped up design of her revocable living trust. “Before you begin drafting, I have a concern with the people I have named as trustees. I have chosen humans over corporations primarily because I want my trustees to spend time, effort and thought in the personal growth of my beneficiaries and to be prepared to guide, and in some respects, even mentor them as their lives play out.”

This is a fairly new concept in the planning world.  I read an article by John A. Warnick on this a couple of years ago. He was pulling from the thinking of some others, Harley Goldstone for one, and was encouraging many of us to do our own thinking and flesh this out for our own clients. John starts by giving some of his own thoughts, the first of which is:

“A generative trustee is deeply interested in the well-being and development of the beneficiary. A generative trustee helps beneficiaries think for themselves instead of robbing them of that ability. A generative trustee is aware of the five toxicities of trusts and guards against dependency, entitlement and the other toxicities becoming dominant influences in the life of the beneficiary. A generative trustee purposefully monitors whether the trust, as well as other external factors, is hindering the flourishing of the beneficiary.”

Some years ago, I began using the term most trusted advisor to characterize myself (or someone else) as that one person who’s “just always there” for my clients. We create an agreement, renewable annually, that provides that I will be that very first person they contact whenever they have a question, an opportunity or a problem. My job is to spend the time to learn what’s going on, how to best respond to the issue and who should be the responding person. If it involves something outside my skill set, then my job is to find the right person to enter with my client and take on the issue.

This program is designed to be extremely proactive. I meet with clients fairly frequently, especially when we have no particular matter to discuss. We try hard to never be reactive, believing that if a “problem” comes up, it means that earlier we probably weren’t astute enough to foresee it. My role doesn’t take the place of any of the trustees of the clients’ trusts. I won’t even advise the trustees unless they ask. I become my client’s (What’s the Greek term?) parakletos.

Once, after a routine visit with a client who was under this particular program with me, I even volunteered to teach his son to drive. I didn’t need to actually do it — fortunately for the young man. But that inclusive sort of involvement is how I perceive the most trusted advisor role.

Another time, I heard a story about a young father with a couple of daughters. He learned he had a terminal illness and a relatively short time to live. His concern was not with leaving money to the daughters. His immense agony was over how they would be raised. Who would take them through those growing years when the close love and advice of Dad would be so needed? It was, he thought, a great deal more than just naming a guardian. So, what did he do? He searched among his friends and relatives and selected a small group of them he named A Council of Dads. That was his solution. And what more beautiful solution could any of us think of?

This is all in line with the generative trustee concept. It fits beautifully with purposeful trust planning. I plan to find a client who wants to give A Council of Dads a try. It will, of course, need to be the perfect client, but I have a lot of them.

What are your thoughts?