Today’s blog was written by Elaine Blades, TEP
The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, currently sits near the top of several best seller lists. It’s a novel about four adult siblings and how the prospect of their imminent shared inheritance – known affectionately as “The Nest” – affects them individually and collectively.
The inheritance was intended by their late father to be a “modest, mid-life supplement” for his four children. His plan was to create a “modest nest egg, conservatively invested, dispersed in time for you to enjoy, but not exploit.” Thanks to a combination of prudent investing, luck and uncanny timing, the now mature fund is significant in size and a puissant force in the lives of the Plumb children.
The novel begins a few months before the “distribution date” – the day the youngest Plumb child turns 40. In response to a tragic event, their remarried mother “exercises her power of attorney” (this should probably say “exercises her discretion as trustee) to pay out a large portion of the previously untouched fund on behalf of her oldest son. Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn that this encroachment creates consternation among the miscreant’s siblings. The usual complaints and grievances are aired: this isn’t fair; it’s our money too; you can’t do this; he must pay us back; I was counting on this money!
Although I tried, it was hard to just read the story without thinking about the various “estate” issues involved. On the planning side, I was thinking how creating four separate pots instead of one and distributing the respective pots when each child attained age 40 may have been preferable. (That being said we are told why the dad planned things this way: “He suspected if they didn’t get the money all at once, it would become a source of conflict between those who had it and those who didn’t; they wouldn’t be kind to one another.”)
I wondered whether the father’s legal adviser had thought to mention that the fund might actually grow to something beyond a modest soupcon (dad’s word). On the trust management/fiduciary obligations side, I wondered whether the mother had the legal authority to do what she did. Was she following the terms of the trust when she made the significant encroachment? Was she entitled to benefit one child only? Was there a requirement to maintain an even hand? Was the encroachment actually a benefit? Would a loan have been more appropriate/acceptable? Was the fund vested in the children? Should she have sought the consent of her sui juris offspring?
As we know, estate disputes are, almost always, about money. But, they are not just about money. They often involve decades old resentments, sibling rivalries and other dynamics. The power of family – warts and all – is at the heart of this page-turner of a story. I recommend you add The Nest to your summer reading list.