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New Illinois decanting statute allows trustees to fix some trust problems

I have a confession to make:  I am not a wine connoisseur.  There are a few wines that I enjoy, but my taste palate for wine is not very broad.

Even so, I occasionally end up discussing wine with our clients because of the concept of decanting.  Decanting is the practice of pouring wine into another container before serving it.  This is done to expose the wine to air, refreshing its flavor.  Or so I am told.

The same concept exists in trusts and estates.  Over time, a trust may not do everything it needs to do, which can be a problem if the trust is irrevocable (because, for example, the creator of the trust has passed away).  At times like this, we turn to decanting.

Decanting a trust allows the trust assets to be “poured” from one trust into another trust.  The newer trust can be designed to fix some of the problems found in the original trust.

A great example of the usefulness of decanting is in the case of special needs beneficiaries.  We often see cases where someone passes away and leaves an inheritance to a special needs relative in a general needs trust.  The problem is that, for benefits purposes, a general needs trust is treated the same as an asset of the beneficiary.  The result can be a loss of benefits for the special needs individual.

In an attempt to address this problem (and others), Illinois recently passed a law amending the Trusts and Trustees Act (Public Act 097-0920).  The new law allows trustees to decant most trusts, whether or not the trust includes the right language.

Under the new law, a general needs trust can be “poured” into a new special needs trust for the same beneficiary.  The essential parameters of the trust aren’t changed.  The trustee, beneficiary, and remainder beneficiaries are all the same.  But the special needs individual won’t lose access to their benefits

The decanted trust works better, just like decanted wine.  Same wine, but better tasting.

Of course, a special needs beneficiary is just one use for trust decanting.  But it’s good to know that Illinois has joined the list of states that allow trustees to “freshen” trusts through the use of decanting.

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Remembering Steve Jobs

It was with great sadness this week that we learned of the passing of Steve Jobs.  We have been using Mac computers in our firm since day one.  In some senses, using Macs has been more difficult than if we had chosen Microsoft Windows.  It’s always easiest to go with the flow.

Our choice to use Macs was about more than just what software our computers were using.  It impacts how we do everything that we do.

In an interview with Business Week in May, 1998, Steve explained his philosophy:

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

And during an interview with Fortune magazine in 2000, Steve said:

“We don’t have good language to talk about this kind of thing,” Mr. Jobs replied. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. The iMac is not just the color or translucence or the shape of the shell. The essence of the iMac is to be the finest possible consumer computer in which each element plays together. … That is the furthest thing from veneer. It was at the core of the product the day we started. This is what customers pay us for — to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”

We have tried to bring that same sense of design to our practice.  Real design that makes things simpler and more understandable—not just decoration.  To “Think Different”.

The feedback we have received from our clients suggests we have been quite successful in that.

But we know that we have only scratched the surface.  And we say thanks to Steve Jobs for showing us just how deep that hole goes.

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