A phone call came in recently informing us of the passing of a gentleman who had named Greenleaf Trust to administer his estate. As he was not a client of Greenleaf Trust during his lifetime, we had little to no information about him, about his life, his family, his assets, or his preferences. In short, we had to work from scratch to gather all the information we could to fulfill his legacy. But many of our questions went unanswered. Was it by design that his daughter’s share was larger than his wife’s, or was that solely a result of his reduced estate size? What were his concerns in writing restrictions on distributions? Did he still trust the opinion of the Trust Protector he had named but had not been in contact with for a decade?

At many times and for many estates, we regret that we were never afforded the opportunity to connect during the person’s lifetime and never learned in their own words what they planned for their legacy.

But what does it mean to plan for your legacy? Is it a matter of money and property? Usually, conversations about legacy include tax strategy, how to reduce expenses, probate avoidance, division of assets and protection of beneficiaries, and rightly so. But legacy can also include the gift of a simple, efficient administration, free of unnecessary stress, conflict and waiting. Because when you are gone, as we all will be some day, your estate plan will determine not only how your assets are divided, but also things like whether family members are put in a position to oppose one another, whether beneficiaries have to wait months and months for access to funds, and whether your administrator has the benefit of your personal knowledge about your family and your wishes.

For clients at Greenleaf Trust, you are equipped with the diligence and service of your client centric team, which is responsible for regularly reviewing your estate plan to ensure it will avoid probate and maintain privacy, divides assets according to your preferences, and is up to date with tax and other legal changes. Our estate settlement team partners with the client centric team at the death of a client to ensure they are equipped with everything needed to either work with an outside administrator, or in the instances where Greenleaf Trust is named as such administrator, to smoothly and efficiently settle the estate.

Oftentimes up until their passing, a client’s estate is viewed from a lifetime perspective, not an estate settlement perspective. With a thorough review, the estate settlement team can give you a picture of what estate settlement will logistically look like and how it will affect the day-to-day life of your family and other beneficiaries. We consider, for example, “day one” planning for after death — planning for pets that will need immediate care, what account access a spouse or other beneficiary will need immediately, which assets should be immediately secured, and more. To facilitate this type of review for living clients, the estate settlement team has now introduced the process of estate settlement readiness reviews (more on this below) to provide a distinctly estate settlement review in the hope of getting answered now the questions we will later wish we’d asked.

Estate Settlement Readiness Reviews have recently led to the following specific successes for various clients:

  • We found and corrected an improperly titled account held outside of Greenleaf Trust.
  • An unrevoked written gift had later been included in the trust terms; had we not taken steps to revoke the prior gift document, the same gift could have been made twice upon the client’s passing.
  • We provided sufficient information to a client about the practical hurdles of having 10+ beneficiaries in one distribution group, allowing the client to weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision.
  • We learned that while some clients did not need updates to their estate plan, they preferred at their passing for us to work with a different law firm than the one that drafted their documents.
  • We discovered that unbeknownst to our client, his son was experiencing immense stress over the financial burden he may be taking on with some of the assets he would inherit. With the client’s privacy preferences as our guide, we were able to clarify how the plan would affect the son’s day-to-day life and the timeline for access to needed funds.

While the successes of each review vary greatly, the goals are always the same. In each review, we hope to:

  • Remove the mystery and confusion around estate settlement,
  • Resolve issues that only the grantor of the trust can remedy,
  • Consider “day one” needs and make sure the plan adequately provides for them,
  • Examine how the plan will affect the day-to-day life of beneficiaries when the estate is administered, and
  • Provide Q&A and discussion time for the client (and family too, if the client prefers) with the very team who will be administering the client’s estate when the client is gone.

To accomplish these important goals, we have structured the estate settlement readiness review in five steps. A review can include some or all of the following steps, based on identified needs and client preferences:

Internal Review

Once the client centric team has confirmed a client’s desire to do an estate settlement readiness review, we perform a complete review of the client’s estate planning documents, an updated list of assets, the titling of assets and liabilities, and any ancillary documents, such as business succession documents, always with the aim to view how these will fit together during estate settlement.


We meet directly with the client, and we recommend clients (if they are comfortable) include, at least, their primary beneficiaries. Some clients may want to share every detail with their family, while others may choose to keep the conversation at a very high level; your team works with you ahead of time to establish the boundaries of this meeting, but in general, this meeting includes the following:

Explanation of the estate settlement process and the timelines associated with settling an estate. The several phases of estate administration to review include:

  • Opening and evaluating the estate
  • Collecting and assessing assets, debts, and expenses
  • Sales and distributions
  • Tax filings
  • Final distributions and estate closing

Review our client’s desires/understanding.

  • Comparison of what our client wants to what our client’s estate plan says.
  • Address client and beneficiary concerns.
  • Next steps.


Often issues and concerns are raised in the review process that require some planning or updating to documents or accounts. While we don’t draft documents internally, we assist clients in identifying those areas of concern, so they are comfortable and prepared for meeting with their attorney or CPA. Often, our team will meet directly with the attorney or CPA to provide a synopsis of what was discussed with the client to facilitate a more efficient review and update process.

Follow-Up Meeting

Your client centric team sometimes also hosts an additional follow-up meeting with you without additional family members present. This provides an opportunity to review the planned changes in detail prior to signing and for you to ask any questions that weren’t asked in the first meeting with family present.


If estate planning updates are needed, the new documents can be signed directly with the attorney, or your team can assist with getting any amendments/updates signed at our offices.

The conversation is sometimes difficult to have, but dealing with estate settlement issues now means not having to deal with them during times of grief and loss. By working together, the review can provide you and your family a fuller understanding of your plan and allow the team who will be assisting in your estate settlement the opportunity to get to know you and what you envision for your legacy. If you are interested in a thorough Estate Settlement Readiness Review, please contact any member of your dedicated three member client centric team.