The View From Six Feet Under
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Trust Administration
Every little child is asked what they want to be when they grow up. They proudly let us know that they will be astronauts, firefighters, superheroes, or the President of the United States. If there is one thing I am sure of in this life (besides death and taxes, but we’ll get to that part later), it is that no third grader has ever looked up at Mommy with an adorable gapped-tooth smile and answered “I wanna be the trustee of multi-generational dynasty trusts! Oh, and I want a pony.” Seriously, go ahead and Google it. It has never happened.
While I love what I do for a living (a relatively rare thing I’m told), I didn’t plan on doing this. I just took a job at a bank trust department because law firms weren’t hiring much in the glutted market of 2005 and I needed to keep the thugs at Sallie Mae from breaking my knee-caps.
And suddenly, I found my calling in life. Little elderly grandmas really appreciated that nice young man (named “Mr. Young” of all the ironic things) who carefully explained mutual funds to them in plain English. Dignified military officers who had once liberated France from Hitler were happy to know that I would be around to make sure their mentally challenged (but mostly functional) son didn’t blow his inheritance after Dad (aka Sir, Yes, Sir!) had gone to that great parade ground in the sky. Wealthy entrepreneurs who had pinched pennies for half a century were comforted by the idea that I would be around to keep my fist tightly wrapped around their savings bonds so that entitled grandchildren didn’t sniff the family fortune up their nose when they were gone. And since I’m a lawyer, I’m not afraid of the boat-loads of paperwork that are automatically dropped on grieving relatives from courts, financiers, and insurance companies the instant a loved one has passed on. I could lift this inane bureaucratic burden off these poor souls, and save them significant money on taxes, for a reasonable fee, and they would thank me for it. What’s not to love?
I’m not saying it’s destiny, because the infinite universe probably doesn’t pay much attention to a whipper-snapper like me, but this all came about at the perfect time for starting a career in one of the fastest growing fields of our time (besides inventing smartphone apps).
In case you don’t read Forbes or the Wall Street Journal (and why would you when the kittens on Buzzfeed are so cute?), we are standing on the precipice of a phenomena that someone on Madison Avenue dubbed the Great Wealth Transfer. A study from the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projected that $59 trillion is expected to be passed down to heirs, charities and taxes between 2007 and 2061. I’m even getting spam-banner-ads on Yahoo about this now.
About half of that transfer will take place in the next couple of decades, as the “Baby Boomers” leave their estates to Generation X, the Millennials, the Digital Natives, Gen Z, and whatever comes after Z. To give some context to these numbers, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States in 2019 was $21.4 trillion (let’s not talk about today’s numbers, ok?). In other words, people my age, who do what I do, will be collectively responsible for more money, stocks, bonds, antiques, and real estate in the first half of our careers than the entire U.S. economy usually produces in 3 years. Dang, I hope we get it right…and I hope those Boomers are writing their passwords down somewhere. Oh, and I’m pretty excited about that 2% fee–I’ll take it in small, unmarked bills, please (legal disclaimer, that was a joke).
But why should anyone besides a trust geek like me care about all of this? Because, it will affect everything. Everything. Blanket Jackson doesn’t know exactly how much money was made by the re-release of the Beatles albums; but the clerks at a giant family office and a team of lawyers do. The widget factory that was founded by Daddy Warbucks in the 1930s and is now owned by Junior Warbucks will be run in 2025 by the Warbucks Estate and the Warbucks Family Trust. Business deals, land development, manufacturing, restaurant chains (what is left of them), hotels, and entertainment agencies will all have to either learn to speak the language of estate planning, or hire an interpreter like yours truly.
I don’t say this to toot my own horn, or to brag about the “huuuuuge” opportunities that await me. That’s just the icing on the cake. The point is that you will have this cake on your plate, and eat it too, whether you like it or not. So it’s time to wake up and develop a sweet tooth. I’m here to help.