Dreams Come True (Fiduciary Accounting Made Easy?)

The words of Joan Lucia, Legal Assistant, CMLP: “I used to prepare estate and trust accounts by hand with an old fashioned calculator, a yellow pad of paper (actually lots of yellow pads of paper) and pencils—lots of pencils and erasers. It took hours upon endless hours to separate income accounts from principal accounts and to make everything balance. We would spend countless hours looking for pennies. When you are trying to prepare an account and it won’t balance, it really consumes you. It’s hard to tear yourself away from the project no matter how uncomfortable and frustrated you become. When DRIPs (dividend reinvestment plans) became common, that just compounded the problem. After the handwritten draft finally balanced, the reams of paper were typed up – not word processed – and another round of time consuming proofing began. What a relief and a sense of accomplishment when we finally got an account to balance and in final form! Really… something to celebrate.”

Much has changed since Joan Lucia took yellow pad and pencils in hand to prepare her first fiduciary account. Now we have computers and software. “What a godsend!” says Joan.

“It still takes a lot of time and effort to prepare a fiduciary account—especially if the account hasn’t been done for a long time. Clients still misplace statements, forget about the old bank accounts, fail to make clear entries in their checkbook ledgers; and clients forget about specific deposits and withdrawals as time passes. The longer it is between accounts the more difficult the project becomes because of lost records and foggy memories. But once I have gathered all the information in an organized way, if I enter the data properly into the software, the software does a great job of creating the separate income and principal accounts we need, and all the other schedules required to provide Trustees, beneficiaries and the Probate Court with a complete picture.”

Even with a great software package, fiduciary accounting requires knowledge of fiduciary accounting rules and experience. For example, even making heads or tails out of statements provided by brokers, banks and investment advisors can be a challenge, especially if that type of thing is new to you.

According to Joan, “Some statements are easier to read than others. Some statements make me feel like I’m reading a foreign language. Almost no statement provides specifics on transactions like sales of fractional shares on mergers, distributions on bankruptcy, etc., so even if all the statements are in order, there is almost always something out of the ordinary to track down. After a while, though, you figure it out. But it seems like every statement, no matter from what company, is very hard on the eyes.”

A lay person who has been appointed Trustee of a trust is tempted to put accounting off. In the long run that will probably result in unnecessary additional time and effort (and expense). And the Trustee can be exposed to a very real risk of personal liability. A Trustee who is not paying proper attention to the income and principal accounts could very easily overpay one class of beneficiaries while shortchanging others. The shortchanged beneficiaries likely will be upset and look for someone (most likely the Trustee) to blame.

We encourage our trust clients to stay on top of the accounting. As each quarterly statement is received, we want to enter the data as soon as possible. That way problems are identified early and questions get answered while memories are fresh.

“Software has made a big difference when it comes to fiduciary accounting,” says Richard Land (Member, CMLP ). “A good software package can be quite expensive but, if you represent enough estates and trusts, and if you have the knowledge and experience required to properly use the software, the investment is well worth it.

“I’ve been involved with fiduciary accounting for almost 30 years now,” says Joan. “I love our current software. I would never want to return to the good old days of yellow pads and pencils…and lots of erasers.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Estate Settlement, Trust Administration

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One Comment on “Dreams Come True (Fiduciary Accounting Made Easy?)”

  1. […] settlement « Timothy M. Herring Joins CMLP Litigation Department as a Member Dreams Come True (Fiduciary Accounting Made Easy?) […]


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