John Kittredge, and his family, had been a long time client of Erskine and Erskine. Over the years, we handled routine matters for the family – such as attending to questions about his privately owned business and drafting basic estate planning documents. In the early 1990s, John suffered a debilitating stroke, which left him paralyzed on his right side. He wound up his business as he could no longer work, and his sister retired from her job and moved in to help care for him.
During this time, John continued to collect and be active in the local and regional numismatic clubs, but he never disclosed the scope of extent of his collection or of his financial affairs to us, his sister or anyone else. We were aware that his estate would involve the coin collection, and so we began tracking the various trends in how such collections are handled from a tax, philanthropic, financial and management perspective. Based on these trends, we developed some scenarios accordingly in order to be both fast and flexible if a crisis occurred.
In early in 2006, John was hospitalized with congestive heart failure, and his prognosis was poor. His sister contacted us to find out what arrangements John had made for his assets. Upon learning that John had arranged for all of his assets to pass to her, his sister was very concerned about his coin collection. Again, though John had indicated that he had a collection of coins, he had never disclosed the extent of his collection, either to his sister or to us as his attorneys. As the crisis of John’s illness was unfolding, his sister very much wanted to ensure the preservation of John’s coin collection. She knew the importance of this to John, as he had never sold any coins – during all of his time as a collector he only added to his collection.
Hospitalized, John was quite ill and was unable to sign new documents. Fortunately, by developing and outline of exactly this scenario, we made sure that his existing estate documents allowed us the flexibility we needed to create and execute a plan that would hold his collection, and would ultimately lead to the creation of the Kittredge Numismatic Foundation, and provide for his sister’s financial security. This accomplished two important goals – it fulfilled John’s wishes to preserve his lifetime passion (and it lifted the concerns she had of owning the collection from his sister), and it provided for the final security of his sister through a trust and family office account for her benefit.
As we settled John’s estate (which included more than 300 separate liquid investments in equities, bonds, and CDs) we again began noting the trends as to how his sister was going to handle matters and develop scenarios to assist her with her personal travel, financial matters and medical care among other issues.
Following John’s death, we went with his sister to open the safety deposit boxes where John kept his coins. To everyone’s surprise, John maintained 15 large boxes containing about 1,000 pounds of over 7,200 individual coins. No one envisioned that his collection was so extensive. We were able to assist John’s sister with the task of cataloging the coins for the estate tax return and help her put all of John’s other financial affairs in order, including sorting through a significant portfolio of individually owned stocks and numerous bank accounts.
Following John’s death, John’s sister wanted to travel to Europe; one of the possible scenarios we had outlined soon after John’s death. We were ready to help her locate a suitable travel companion and arrange for the trip, as well as have contingency plans for issues that might arise. While traveling, she fell in the airport. Upon arriving home, again our scenario planning help to quickly accompany her to the hospital and locate appropriate medical care for her. We again developed several scenarios as to how she could return to her home, and, with her assent, went forward with modifications to her home, including painting, the installation of air conditioning and railings along the walkways. We then engaged home health aides to temporarily care for her as she got back into independent living at home.
We were able to manage the crisis for this family and achieve what our clients wanted quickly and creatively because we look at the possible scenarios that may develop for a client, not just the most likely projection of where they are today. We had the outline of the scenario where John’s sister knew that she could never sell the coins – this would betray her brother’s memory as he had never sold any part of his collection, and we had followed the trends as to how such a collection has been preserved successfully in the past. This was, however, only one of several scenarios we considered and outlined, based on the possible future situation of John and Margaret. Traditional estate planning would likely have treated this situation as a single focused question: achieving financial security for Margaret. John existing and basic estate planning documents that where in place provided for his sister’s financial security, by providing for the “disposition” (i.e. sale) of his collection upon his death. But we knew that these clients needed and wanted more.
We were able to assess what was happening during a possible crisis of John’s illness and (from our scenario outline) develop of a creative, integrated, relationship based solution that dealt with the current problem and the uncertainties of the future before it occurred, we were able to give them both the financial security for Margaret they needed, and the preservation of the ownership of the collection locally that they desired. John’s sister’s needs are met, and John’s collection of Crowns and Thalers dating back to the 15th century along with an endowment to the Kittredge Foundation, is a living entity, interactive with the numismatic community and preserved in a way meaningful to John and his memory.
The traditional approach is a technical approach, driven by a desire to deal with the immediate questions and linear projects of the “most likely” future for the clients, and avoids the uncertainty of the future. At Erskine and Erskine, we approach specific issues as part of the larger scenario, so that you have options to meet uncertainty and change as the future unfolds.