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Leno’s head of trust on family succession planning: do it now and get it right

You may not have been able to buy a new pair of shoes or play a round of golf in the last few weeks, but there is one thing many are doing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: taking their own vulnerability more seriously and accelerating their desire to plan for loved ones.

So said a trust professional who, even while working remotely, is receiving a record number of enquiries about what she calls “wanting to have a plan in place” for the transfer of assets to children, spouses and others they wish to legally protect.

Dianne Bingham, managing director, Leno Trust Ltd., said COVID-19 is forcing people to focus on their vulnerability and mortality.

“Though always a factual reality, COVID-19 has pushed the reality of our vulnerability and mortality to the forefront once again,” said Bingham. “People of all ages and income levels are enquiring about structured planning and taking action to legally protect loved ones should something happen to them as a result of COVID-19.

“We have experienced episodes of rampant diseases, hurricanes, natural disasters and each one forces persons to stop and reflect on their vulnerability and mortality.

“This current pandemic, which has again highlighted the need to always be prepared, has manifested into enquiries by Bahamians from all levels of society reaching out to discuss succession planning. We are hearing a sense of relief in learning that there are solutions, including trusts and other asset-holding structures, available to successfully address this concern.”

The increase in estate planning as a result of the pandemic is not limited to The Bahamas. Concern with preparing for the future has driven activity to websites, with one U.S.-based estate planning platform reporting a more than 120 percent jump in a few weeks. The virus, which still has no known preventative vaccine, has already taken more than 230,000 lives worldwide since it was first reported in Wuhan, China, in late December. There have been more than 3.2 million confirmed cases.

For Bingham, who has been honored on numerous occasions for her role in estate planning, the increased focus on mortality and a sense of urgency could lead to poor choices.

“While I am pleased that millennials who normally give little or no thought to asset planning are now taking it seriously, I encourage them to take time to understand the trust concept and the important difference between naming a friend you believe will do the right thing after you are gone, versus the benefits of appointing a corporate trustee,” she said. “The corporate trustee, in addition to having professional experience, provides guarantee of continuity and regulation, being held to a higher standard.

“There is a reason why those who have substantial assets to protect do so through a corporate trustee. Sadly, many with fewer assets turn to a friend or relative with no training or experience managing assets who may not survive for the required period.

“Strange things happen to people when they suddenly get their hands on money they did not earn themselves. Many who have the best intentions initially end up not protecting the ones they were charged with looking after.”

Oversight for the individual is his or her own integrity, she explained, while oversight for the corporate trustee is through internal and external regulation. Layers of internal control create checks and balances for the corporate trustee who must also fulfil reporting and transparency requirements.

“Bahamians, by and large, are far more aware these days of the value of a trust which avoids the lengthy process of probation, allowing transfer of assets to loved ones the way the creator of the trust intended,” said Bingham. “There is still a way to go in educating the public about the difference between naming a friend or relative and appointing a corporate trustee. You can think of it this way: when you need your vehicle repaired or dental work, you turn to the trained professional. Why would you do any less when it comes to something as important as your family or loved ones’ financial future?”

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