South Carolina has made national and international news lately with the sensational trial of Alex Murdaugh, the attorney charged with the double murder of his wife and youngest son. The murder trial only begins to scratch the surface of Murdaugh’s dealings which have caused substantial concern among South Carolina attorneys as well as the public. Prosecutors suggest that Murdaugh’s motive in the murder case may have been to distract from his significant financial crimes. Murdaugh faces 19 grand jury indictments resulting in 99 charges which include defrauding his former law firm and clients of millions of dollars, according to CNN. Among these clients were the heirs of Murdaugh’s housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield and a SC highway patrolman. Murdaugh is charged with taking more than $8.7 million from clients according to multiple news sources.
It is important to note that the South Carolina Bar Association and Murdaugh’s own law firm have taken unparalleled steps to rectify Murdaugh’s actions. In an opinion piece published in The State newspaper, Beverly A. Carroll, chair of the SC bar judicial independence and impartiality committee, noted that Mr. Murdaugh was disbarred from practicing law in SC very quickly once his crimes were known. In her opinion, Ms. Carroll commended all who had worked to expose Murdaugh’s crimes. She also points out that the practice of law is closely regulated with avenues for anyone to complain about attorneys or judges which will trigger confidential investigation. The actions of one unethical professional should not impugn the reputation of the entire profession. Read the entire piece here:
The law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, and Detrick (PMPED) conducted a review of all of Murdaugh’s cases. When they learned of his fraudulent use of a fictitious annuity company they presented this evidence to the Hampton County Sheriff’s department and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) (https://www.blufftontoday.com/story/news/local/hampton-county-guardian/2021/10/06/pmped-files-lawsuit-former-attorney-alex-murdaugh-recover-funds/6026185001/). They have reimbursed all clients who lost money due to Murdaugh’s actions and have filed civil suit against Murdaugh to recover some of these monies. Recently the firm reorganized as Parker Law Group.
What Do I Need to Know About Trustees?
Alex Murdaugh served as trustee for structured settlements received from insurance companies. Reasons to appoint trustees can also include managing funds for for minor children, disabled heirs, or because heirs just aren't good at managing their own funds. If you are considering setting up a trust to benefit your children or grandchildren, you need to consider the many situations in which they may need a trustee.
In the case of a minor beneficiary, it may be necessary to appoint both a guardian to provide day-to-day care and a financial trustee to manage assets. These can be the same person or can be two separate people. One family member may be a great parent figure but not good with money. In this case the family member can be named as guardian and another person or company can be named as trustee to manage the assets.
How do I Choose a Trustee?
There are two broad choices for trustees. A family member or a corporate entity. Both come with risks and benefits. A family member may be trustworthy, understand important family dynamics and they may not charge a typical trustee’s fee for their work. A drawback of naming a family member is they may lack financial and investment knowledge. To put it succinctly this individual needs to understand enough about finances to seek and take good advice. There is often very little oversight of an individual, so they need to be trustworthy. An individual can also become ill or just not have enough time to competently manage a trust.
A corporate entity such as a law firm, bank, or trust management company is a second option that may be appealing. You should understand the qualifications and the oversight of the professional trustees as well as how the professional trustee charges for their management responsibilities. Statements should be sent to beneficiaries periodically. If there are minor children involved, the guardian can provide some oversight of the trustee. They should have enough knowledge to be sure these statements are arriving in a timely manner, and to raise questions if anything seems irregular. While using a company as trustee can provide many benefits, it is important to make sure you choose the right company for the job. In the case of Alex Murdaugh, unfortunately too much trust was placed in one individual who did not have proper oversight. This could have been easily remedied by naming a company to oversee the funds and requiring regular accountings. Of course, in this case there was a tremendous amount of fraud involved, which is not normal in these types of situations.
If you have questions or concerns about who to appoint as trustee for your estate, call us at 803-358-7214 or complete the contact form. Our knowledgable and experienced South Carolina attorneys can guide you through the process of choosing the best trustee to safeguard your family.