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Authorizing the Right People to Help: A Lesson Learned from Madame Bonafamille

If you have young children like I do you probably know the entire plot of way too many Disney movies. It seems to be a requirement in my house to know all of the lyrics to Let It Go and easily distinguish the physical differences between Dusty Crophopper from Planes and Dusty Crophopper of Planes, Fire and Rescue.

This Christmas, my kids were given books of Disney movies I had not watched in years, including the Aristocats. It is set in 1910 Paris and tells the story of a mother cat, her three kittens and their wealthy owner, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille. Ms. Bonfamille dotes on her feline companions and considers them her family. In the beginning of the movie she expresses her intent to her attorney to leave her estate to her cats and thereafter to her long-time butler. Her butler, unhappy to wait until the cats have each used all seven lives, plots to get rid of the cats and hijinks ensue.
I don’t think Edgar the butler was the faithful servant Ms. Bonfamille believed him to be. Her biggest mistake might have been naming Edgar as the cats’ caregiver, completely in charge of their well-being. Although it seems that Ms. Bonfamille expected Edgar to dutifully care for the cats until their natural passing and not take any offense at being named second in line to a family of feline companions, I think we can all see where her plan was lacking in forethought.

Picking someone to be in charge of your estate when you pass away can be a difficult decision especially when it is possible that the same person may continue on and care for your children or other beneficiaries. Some people have complete faith that their family will act with complete professionalism and care and go above and beyond their duties as guardian and/or fiduciary. Others however have concerns how their family and friends may behave when they are no longer around.

When naming an Executor/Trustee/Power of Attorney, it is important to pick someone you trust. Everyone has different skills and strengths. If someone has a medical background and are trustworthy, why not name them on a medical power of attorney or HIPAA Medical Release. If your child/sibling/parent/friend is great with money and trustworthy then why not name them as the durable power of attorney, able to assist you with financial decisions. If you have a family member who is very organized and trustworthy, why not name that person as Executor and/or Trustee. An Executor or Trustee will likely have the counsel of an attorney to assist with any necessary estate administration and to answer difficult questions but it is a job that requires attention and organization.

Of course the one trait that is mentioned in each of these roles is trustworthiness. If you have concerns that your appointed representative may not represent your wishes after your passing then it might be best not to choose that person to serve that role. If you feel that there is no one you can trust to represent you during your potential incapacity or after your death, it is important to meet with an estate planning attorney to discuss other options available to make sure that your wishes are carried out after your passing. Don’t be like Ms. Bonfamille and put your beloved family at risk.