When discussing the role of fiduciaries in your legal documents, it is important for you and those you appoint to understand how responsibilities begin and end within each of the documents you create. Similar to a relay race, the baton (your physical estate and intangible legacy) is passed between fiduciaries who are appointed for various roles prior to ending in the hand of your eventual beneficiaries.
While you are alive and well, you hold the baton, making decisions as a good and faithful steward. In the event of incapacity, however, you hand your baton to your agent/attorney-in-fact via the Power of Attorney (POA). The hope is that the agent will be handing the baton back, sooner rather than later, but during his/her time with the baton, he/she is “you” in the eyes of the law. The more power and flexibility you provide your agent, the better he/she can serve your interests.
In the event that your condition never improves (or you die without using the POA), your baton is passed to the Executor of your Last Will and Testament. The Executor “runs” with your estate for about a year, garnering assets, arranging for the payment of any final expenses and taxes, and helping ensure that everything gets where you want it to go. Thereafter, the baton will pass to one of two runners: your beneficiaries or a trustee for your beneficiaries.
In the case of a Trustee, because you have set restrictions on the access to funds, the Trustee runs with the baton for as long as you set forth in your trust. In this role, depending on the age of your beneficiaries, the Trustee might be working hand-in-hand with another fiduciary, the Guardian of your minor beneficiaries. Here, the hope is that the two fiduciaries work in tandem, to not only protect your physical estate, but also prepare the next generation of stewards to carry the baton into the future.
Eventually, in almost all cases, the baton ends up in the hands of your beneficiaries. Your race is complete; the success of you and the fiduciaries you choose can now be measured based upon the lasting nature of your legacy and the path along which your beneficiaries now proceed.