Saturday, September 29, 2007


You can't take it with you, but can you leave it with instructions? Only if your name is Rooney.

Season of Destiny - A division win by the Chicago Cubs? No, As Good As News naturally turns to thoughts of football dynasties as we hit October. Let's define dynasty as a team that wins at least three championships within a six year span. There are five in modern NFL history, corresponding to the decades - the 60's Packers (including pre-superbowl NFL championships); 70's Steelers; 80's Niners; 90's Cowboys and 00's Pats. As the NFL season moves to week 4 every dynasty is undefeated except the Niners, and someone had to lose when they played the Steelers. Not all these teams are big spenders but there is a common thread - some continuity of ownership. Also true for the near dynasty Skins and Raiders when they were winners, but they now struggle under one new owner and one owner so old he may not be quite the same guy he used to be. Only one franchise, the Steelers, has remained a winner after a transfer of ownership to the next generation of the founding family.

Donors Gone, Trusts Veer From Their Wishes - Mr. Anthony, a millionaire with a history of giving to many local charities (orphanages, nursing schools, The Anthony Fund For Needy Bloggers) sets up a trust to make donations after his death. Anthony wants to continue with the same type of donations, so he names his brother, Billy Carter Anthony, as co-trustee and explains his wishes to Billy. Knowing that people die, Anthony names a local bank where his friend Chesterfield is President as co-trustee with oral instructions to watch the investments, leave the choice of donees to Billy and make sure Billy doesn't drink too much. Knowing that things change, Anthony gives the trustees substantial discretion to select donees, he doesn't want millions going to a nursing school with only two students someday.

Anthony dies, leaving a bundle to the trust. After years of sticking to the plan, Billy and Chesterfield die and the local bank is acquired by Megabank. To cut administrative costs Megabank shifts the trust's giving from many small annual donations to a few big ones. The local donees can't handle these, so the donees become larger institutions. In a remarkable coincidence one of the principal donees is now an elite college where Endora, a VP from Megabank's Trust Department (oddly Endora is the VP who administers the Anthony Trust) recently began serving on a prestigious advisory board and the very same college where Endora's twins just started their freshman year. Endora is very convincing when she explains that the trust's donations have nothing to do with her board seat and her twins were model students who would have been admitted anywhere (both applied early decision so we can't test that claim.)

Sound nasty? Should Megabank have a tougher policy on reporting and avoiding conflicts -decisions that put the trust administrator in a position to benefit indirectly from disposition of the trust assets, especially at the expense of the grantor's non-binding intentions? Should the attorney general? (Of which state, Megabank may migrate the trust to the least stringent regulator?) Should we go with a death tax that moots the issue? Does the fact that Leona Helmsley left millions to her dog make the ginormous death tax sound any better? Maybe we should just yawn and say so what - Anthony's dead and the college is a legitimate donee even if Endora seems a little slimy?

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