Clients came in a few months ago explaining that several years back, the mother had deeded her house into a trust and now she wanted to make a change to the trust. I said that I would review the trust to be sure that such a change would be permitted and would advise them on how to proceed.
As I dug into the trust, it turned out to be quite a doozy. It was poorly drafted. It was clearly put together by someone who didn’t understand the intersection of estate tax planning, Medicaid planning, property law, and fulfilling a mother’s wishes. It took me weeks of research, several pages of notes, and a lot of head-scratching to finally put together a 5-page letter to the client explaining her options for moving forward.
I often say that elder law and special needs planning involve juggling a lot of different balls and that we will never be able to get them all to land in a perfect line. It’s a matter of choosing which of the many issues are most important to you and letting the other ones slide into second place.
In this case, the clients and I reviewed the pros and cons of all of her options. Because of the poor drafting of the original trust, we were very limited in what we could do. If we did A, she would achieve B, but she would lose C. If we did B, we would achieve C, but lose A, and so on. The client weighed all the different things that she had hoped to accomplish and chose the one that was most important to her. And to accomplish that particular goal, the required action was to do nothing.
In the end, she walked out of my office with the same trust document she had when she came in – we didn’t change a thing. But she now has something else – knowledge. She now understands, much better than she did from the attorney who drafted the trust years ago – what will happen to her home if she wants to sell the house and move, what happens if she ever needs nursing home, and who in her family will inherit it after she passes away.
Sometimes, after examining all the angles, you realize that the best thing to do is to do nothing.