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Your Last Will and Testament

Trust funds
The difficulty with assigning large sums of money and items which might possibly be worth considerably more after your death than when you are alive is really a lottery. You could be another Van Gogh whose work will fetch millions, or a just an unknown Joe who leaves behind a stack of rubbish nobody wants. That's a bit harsh, I know, but making a will is about reality and the continuation of someone's life after your death. One way out of this problem is to set up a managed trust, a kind-of holding pen for whatever you have created which might one day be worth something. Your elected trustee(s) will be responsible for distributing any income from the sale of such property to the various beneficiaries, always assuming anything at all is sold, or generates royalties. If you decide to go this way and your selection regarding who will manage the fund is a private rather than professional choice, it might be advisable to draw up an agreement granting the trustees a percentage commission for carrying out what could become an involved and possibly lucrative business.

Trust accounts can also be set up to take care of money, naming relatives and friends as beneficiaries of specific amounts. These can be passed over immediately the legalities of your death have been satisfied, or at some later time of your choosing when the conditions detailed in your will have been honoured. Trust accounts would hopefully be earning some kind of interest, and you may decide to allow this to be drawn on while the principal must remain untouched for a given period. You may wish to leave a specific sum to a child, or children, which can only be accessed once they reach a certain age. Obviously this course will require an adult's management until that time, and here's where executors come in handy.

These people can save a lot of problems. Their job will be to ensure that the terms of a will are adhered to and to arbitrate on any arising disputes or discrepancies. As adjudicators, they should be individuals whom you trust to do the right thing by your wishes and those benefiting from them, but should not be included in the will themselves. One is okay; two are better; any more than that and it could be a case of too many cooks! If you decide to grant this responsibility, remember it could be a heavy one and those you choose need to be impartial, fair-minded and not easily swayed. Ideally, they would be seconded early in the piece and be shown the document to ensure they fully understand it and where you are coming from. Once finalised, the will has to be signed and witnessed before it is considered legal; but whether the laws of a country allow it or not, executors should not be witnesses. They may become Devil's advocates if a serious dispute eventuates and they need to be seen as unbiased and above reproach. Theirs might prove to be a tougher-than-expected task, so make sure they know this before they accept the request.

So far we've been talking about keeping the peace and being remembered with affection, but not everyone is dealt a fair hand when it comes to rellies. We've seen the movies portraying the vindictive, supposedly deceased benefactor who makes his relatives suffer beyond belief in some spooky mansion until all but one are dead. The last survivor imagines he or she is about to get the whole swag, then discovers that the old reprobate isn't dead at all and was just playing a cruel joke. Tontines are a bit like that, bequeathing entire estates to a number of heirs, but the catch is that certain conditions have to be met before final ownership is handed over. Sometimes, a period of time has to expire and then the total is shared by all those still living. Then there is the last-man-standing tontine, and I think that speaks for itself. There may be a good reason for bequests of this nature, but I can't think of one that isn't going to cause lingering resentment, perhaps even a family feud.

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