Note: This article appeared in our newsletter several years ago but has been brought back “by popular demand”!
Growing up in a small farm town in Southern New Jersey, Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite days of the year.
Of course, there was the sheer natural beauty of seeing the tree leaves change color and carpet the ground with shades of yellow, orange and brown. And all the pumpkins – – each rivaling the next in shape and size – – literally sprouting up from all the local fields.
But, what I remember most about Thanksgiving was the feast – – of football!
My family’s holiday ritual began with my Dad and me getting up early and putting on our “uniforms” (layering up with enough clothing to sit outside in the chilly morning air). Because by 8am we were off to attend the annual bragging rights game – – between Millville High School (boo!) and our beloved Vineland High School (yea!) – – which began promptly at 10am every Thanksgiving Day. It was a classic battle between two neighboring towns, pitting the factory mill workers against the farm boys (I’m not kidding! A glass factory was the major employer of Millville, while the Vineland team was known as the “Poultry Clan” because of all the chicken farms and, believe it or not, our school mascot was a fighting rooster! Imagine the insults we heard every other year when we had to travel to Millville!)
This was more than a mere football game. It was about respecting an ages-old tradition. Every year, I was reminded that the Millville-Vineland game was one of the oldest high school battles in the nation! (By the way, just before writing this, I looked it up for the first time and, sure enough, it’s still the third or fourth longest-running high school football rivalry, since 1894, and remarkably both schools are about tied in number of wins!).
The Thanksgiving morning game was also a unique social and bonding event for the members of each community, no matter their “status” or place in life. This was particularly true for the home team, as neighbor after neighbor streamed from their houses, most of them walking in groups, to attend this revered event at the local stadium. I remember always struggling to squeeze into the packed bench-style seats (on the Vineland side, of course) and along the way to finding seats, saying hello with my Dad to about everyone we knew in town!
I also remember a few goofy events that occurred over the years at this Thanksgiving football classic. One time, the visiting Millville stands collapsed! (No matter where the game occurred, rickety open wooden stands were reserved for the away team, while the home team sat in the comfortable concrete supported stadium seats.) The Millville fans had been jumping up and down boasting of the success of their boys during the game, much to our dismay, so we all thought on the Vineland side when they fell, “Ha! Ha! You deserved it!” (Actually, I thought that it might have been a result of some unseen mischief by a few leather-jacketed Vineland High dropouts.)
The back and forth mischief between the fans seemed to escalate over the years until it was decided there simply had to be an end put to it! One year, the visiting Millville fans tore down both goalposts after the game and pulled up big chunks of the field too. So the next time the game was played in Vineland, the police brought in the “K-9 Corps” – – and most of the fourth quarter was played with snarling and barking attack dogs leashed to the goal posts in each end zone!
Mostly, though, the game was good, clean fun. But the day was only getting started when the game ended. The next event on schedule was the annual Thanksgiving parade down the main street of town. (At least my time-filtered memory of Thanksgiving has the parade on that same day – – but it may have been on Friday or Saturday!) Both towns held essentially the same parade. Whichever school was the visitor had its marching band play in the home town’s parade, which invariably ended with Santa Claus passing by in his sleigh, tossing to the cheering onlookers (much to the delight of younger kids) miniature candy canes. Then, most of the parade moved on to the other town! I remember how thrilling it was to stand just a few feet away, on the curb, as the local marching bands shook the street with their pounding feet and loud brass horns and drums! (I guess it’s no coincidence that my Dad chose to play the lead, Professor Harold Hill, in an off-Broadway production of The Music Man and that I still consider that show, including the song “76 Trombones”, one of my favorites to this day!)
After the game and the parade, the day was still only half over. Next came the early afternoon family Thanksgiving dinners, with plenty of turkey and every other kind of food you can imagine. Then, everyone crowded around the television (a color one, if you were really lucky!) to watch the only NFL game of the day, the Green Bay Packers at the Detroit Lions. (No matter how good the Packers were and how bad the Lions were, I remember it was always an exciting fight to the finish!) During the halftime of that game, the neighborhood Dads and sons gathered in the street or a nearby field for a friendly game of touch football. Then, it was back to the televisions (and more eating until everyone was too sleepy to do anything else!). What a wonderful day Thanksgiving Day was!
For years, until I graduated high school and left our small town to go off to college, I thought (or took for granted) that everyone in America – – and all over the world – – enjoyed a Thanksgiving holiday like this. Of course, I soon learned nothing was farther from the truth. It was only after breaking away from the wonderful Thanksgiving tradition with which I had been raised that I truly understood the meaning of Thanksgiving. We are so very lucky and truly blessed to live in such a free country with all its opportunities and bounty.
I know many people are experiencing hard times these days and I believe it’s not just the obligation, but the duty, of those of us who are well off to help others less fortunate. Give of your time to assist others in need or of your spare money to contribute to worthy charitable causes. Consider placing a special bequest in your estate plan to charity, even if it’s just 1% of what you’ve accumulated over a lifetime! Your family will hardly miss that 1%, but imagine what good it will do in the world, particularly if others join you to do the same.
In hope of getting us all into the true spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ll leave you with these moving words from an anonymous source…
Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire;
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don’t know something…
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times;
During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations…
They give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge…
That’s how you build strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes;
They will teach you valuable lessons.
Be thankful when you’re tired and weary…
Because it means you’ve given your all.
It’s easy to be thankful for the “good” things;
Yet a life of rich fulfillment comes to those
who are thankful for the setbacks.
Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive…
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles,
and they can become your blessings.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you and yours have a safe and memorable holiday, filled with love, cheer, fun – – and your own tradition!
The Top Five Things to Know About Living Trusts
There are many estate planning tools and techniques available to help an estate planning attorney design a custom plan for each unique client situation. One popular tool is the Revocable Living Trust (RLT). The purpose of this article is to review the top five things you should know about this tool, as you evaluate your estate planning options or consider changes to your current plan. However, this review is not meant to replace the thorough and confidential counsel of an estate planning attorney regarding your unique circumstances.
An Agreement between Three Parties
Every RLT is a written legal agreement between three parties: the Trustmaker (also known as a Grantor, Settlor or Trustor), the Trustee and the Beneficiary. Interestingly, one person can serve as all three parties upon creation of the RLT. [Note: A married couple may share one “joint” RLT and serve together as all three parties, or each spouse may create a “separate” RLT. Accordingly, the configuration of an RLT may vary depending on your unique circumstances and objectives.] Simply stated, the Trustmaker creates the RLT, the Trustee manages the RLT and the Beneficiary benefits from the assets titled to the RLT. While there may be multiple successor Trustees and Beneficiaries over the lifespan of any RLT, there is only one Trustmaker (or two, if a marital joint RLT). The “revocable” in RLT means that the Trustmaker reserves the right to change any trust provisions as long as the Trustmaker is alive and has legal capacity (i.e., is able to make decisions). Once the Trustmaker is deceased or no longer has legal capacity, then the RLT becomes irrevocable.
Avoiding “Living Probate”
One of the unsung, but major benefits of the RLT is the uninterrupted management of trust assets should the Trustmaker/Beneficiary lose legal capacity. The authority of a Trustee over trust assets is greater than that of an Agent acting under a Durable Power of Attorney over assets still titled in the name of someone who is incapacitated. The Trustee actually holds legal title, but the Agent is merely acting on behalf of the incapacitated asset owner who still holds legal title. Practically speaking, financial institutions clearly honor the instructions of a Trustee holding legal title, but may be reluctant when dealing with an Agent who does not.
Avoiding “Death Probate”
The most commonly noted benefit to any RLT is that trust assets are not subject to probate when the Trustmaker dies. Unlike a Last Will and Testament, the venerable RLT is typically not filed with any court. As a result, the estate distribution plan of the Trustmaker remains private, while court costs are eliminated and the delays often associated with probate are avoided. [The degree to which these benefits are realized may vary depending on the state where the Trustmaker was a legal resident at the time of death.] Did you know that owning real estate in more than one state could subject you to probate in each respective state? This is yet another advantage of the RLT when real estate is titled to the RLT.
The “titling” of assets is truly the “secret sauce” when it comes to estate planning. For starters, any assets that do not have a surviving “joint owner” will be subject to probate. Similarly, any assets that do not have a designated beneficiary (e.g., transfer-on-death bank accounts, life insurance, retirement plans or annuities) will be subject to probate. And, yes, any assets that are not currently titled in the name of your RLT or do not designate your RLT as the post-mortem beneficiary will be subject to probate.
The key to the success (or failure) of any estate plan, whether passing through probate under a Last Will and Testament or avoiding probate with any RLT is this: the people who best know what they own, how it is titled, where it is located and its value are no longer alive or no longer have legal capacity. As a result, up-to-date record keeping and careful asset titling are essential. As they say, the devil is in the details.
Along with asset “titling,” the selection of your successor Trustees will determine whether your RLT is successful. The pages of many law treatises can be (and have been) filled with information providing guidance on how to select appropriate Trustees for your RLT, especially the “successors” if you are the initial Trustee. Regardless, there are really three basic options when it comes to filling this crucial role.
Option #1: Go with trusted family members or friends. Likely they know the strengths and weaknesses of your beneficiaries. They may not charge much, if anything, for serving. Unfortunately, they may be busy with and distracted by their own lives, financial and otherwise. Also, they may be unable to say “no” to the supplications of irresponsible trust beneficiaries.
Option #2: A professional trustee, such as an institution or a CPA, is a common choice. The upsides and the downsides are the opposite of those noted in Option #1.
Option #3: Consider combining Options #1 and #2 for the best of both. Under this Pro-Am Approach, the family member (or friend) Trustee understands the strengths and weaknesses of your Beneficiaries, while the professional Trustee can say “no” to irresponsible distributions. In the process, personal relationships are preserved and Beneficiaries are protected.
If you are thinking that RLT planning is complex, then you are right. Do not attempt to create your own RLT or perform major surgery on yourself.