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man reading newspaper

If spelling tests weren’t always your strong suit in school, fear not! Today’s legal word of the day is an easy one that’s having a momentary editorial heyday.

Ripped From the Headlines

As you probably heard, The New York Times took the highly unusual step of publishing an unsigned, anonymous op-ed entitled, “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” The person was identified only as follows:

“…. a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.”

man with newspaper near train

Whodunnit?

The article led to a nationwide guessing game. Who is the senior official in the Trump administration who penned this “explosive” piece? Suspicion fell onto, of all people, Vice President Mike Pence. This is because the op-ed writer uses the word “lodestar,” and Pence has used this obscure word multiple times. (Pence vehemently denied he was the author, by the way.)

I don’t know who wrote the op-ed, and we may never know, but the real winner out of this news cycle is the word you never knew you needed in your vocabulary—lodestar!

So, What DOES Lodestar Mean?

Lodestar means “a star that leads or guides,” and is especially used in relation to the North Star.

timelapse of stars

Now, Let’s Talk About a Similar Kind of “Star”

At this point you’re like, “Gordon, this is a cool word I can def use in playing Scrabble, but what does it have to do with the law?”

Well, “lodestar” is a synonym and practically interchangeable with the word “polestar,” which is defined as a “directing principle; a guide.”

A court will use the term polestar like so: In this case, our polestar must be this principle . . .

Basically the court will use such-and-such as its guiding principle.

direction sign on a mountain

For example, in the law of wills, the Iowa Supreme Court stated In the Estate of Twedt that “the testator’s [maker of the will’s] intent is the polestar and if expressed must prevail.” You’ll see the same in the law of trusts, the intent of the settlor of a trust must be the polestar.

The word is also used in the law of charitable giving. The intent of the donor is the polestar which courts must follow if there are any issues. For example, suppose a donor posthumously donates $100,000 to a nonprofit, but the nonprofit no longer exists. What was the donor’s intent? Is it stated anywhere what the donor wanted to happen to the charitable funds if the nonprofit was no more? If not written, did the donor discuss the matter with anyone? To resolve any dispute involving a charitable gift, the guiding principle–the polestar–must be the donor’s intent.

Practical application of the Word Polestar

A major reason to have an estate plan is that YOU get to control your own future, rather than being controlled by outside forces or outside events. Through proper estate planning, you can be in total control of the answers to the following questions:

And if there are any questions or issues regarding your estate plan, lawyers and judges looking at your estate plan will make decisions based on YOUR intent. Your intent will be the polestar!

Don’t delay any longer – thank your lucky (North) stars you still have time to make a proper estate plan. I’d be happy to talk with you about your estate plan any time, or you can get started on organizing your important info in my free Estate Plan Questionnaire. I can be reached via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by cell (515-371-6077). I’d truly love to hear from you.

Three Parties to a Trust

There are three parties to a trust: (1) the settlor (sometimes called the donor or grantor); (2) the trustee; and (3) the beneficiary. Let’s talk about the “middle man” of this arrangement – the trustee.

Definition of Trustee

The trustee is the person who receives the property and accepts the obligation to hold the property for the benefit of the beneficiary. There can be one, two, or many trustees.

People talking on a bridge

General Duties of Trustees

A person who accepts the role of trustee has numerous responsibilities. In particular, trustee owes several duties, which may be fairly summarized as follows:

  1. The duty to be prudent, especially with respect to investment of trust assets.
  2. The duty to carry out the terms of the trust.
  3. The duty to be loyal to the trust and administer the trust solely for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
  4. The duty to give personal attention to the affairs of the trust.
  5. The duty to provide regular accounting to the beneficiaries.

Court Can Choose Trustees

If the trustee chosen by the settlor is unwilling or unable to serve, and if the settlor has not chosen a successor trustee, a court will appoint a trustee to carry out the terms of the trust. ”A trust will not fail for want of a trustee.”

Individual Trustees & Corporate Trustees

Two people talking over computer at outside cafe table

A trustee can be one or more people, or can be what is known as a corporate trustee. Many banks, other financial institutions, and even a few law firms, have trust departments to manage trusts and carry out the duties of the trustee. These are professional trustees and, of course, charge fees for services rendered. But, there are no formal requirements for being a trustee, and individuals still often serve as trustee for family members and friends.

Questions? Let’s Talk.

This hopefully clarified the important role of trustee to assist your estate planning decisions, but you may have questions…which is great! Contact me to discuss further the status of your estate plan and your trustee decisions. Reach me by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or phone at 515-371-6077.