Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My wife’s grandfather spent most of his career working for Hewlett-Packard, a company he revered. A year before he died, he asked my wife to promise that she would never sell the block of HP stock that he would leave for her.
That was more than 15 years ago, and she has faithfully kept her promise to him. Meanwhile, the stock has lost more than half its value.
Isn’t there a moral statute of limitations on promises like this? Would it be so wrong for my wife to sell the stock before she loses any more money?
– Frustrated in California
Dear Frustrated: How would you feel if you left money to a granddaughter for her college education and she later decided that her inheritance was better spent traveling through South America, learning about the people and their cultures?
The point is, considering breaking a promise puts you on a slippery slope, where one person’s “good reason” is another person’s tortured rationalization. We happen to think your wife has a pretty good excuse for selling her stock – namely, that HP is an altogether different company than it was when Grandpa left the shares to her. In particular, it’s no longer the blue-chip company he presumably imagined that it always would be.
But to answer your question: There is no statute of limitations on a promise. However, times change, and justifiable reasons for breaking one can emerge. Whether that’s what has occurred here is something that only your wife can decide.
P.S. Taking the pledge not to sell didn’t earn your wife a larger share of Grandpa’s stock than she would have otherwise received, did it?
Because if that’s the case, and she wants to part with the stock but not her honor, she needs to begin by giving the appropriate number of shares to those beneficiaries whom her promise, in effect, shortchanged.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: As a friend’s power of attorney/personal representative with trust powers, should I consider all her property (e.g., land, cattle, investments) to be in her trust? There is no specific list, but before my friend entered hospice, I began looking after all her property and bank accounts. So you know, here’s what the trust document states: “The authority of the Personal Representative will continue following my death for a time reasonably needed to complete administration of the property which, at the time of my death, was in the custody of my Personal Representative.”
What should I do?
– Linda M. in Texas
Dear Linda: Stop guessing. The way the law works, each of your friend’s assets either is or is not in the trust. And depending on what it says in the Power of Attorney document, you either do or do not have the authority to manage the property which is not.
To find out where your responsibilities and your authority begin and end, you need to speak to an attorney. The one who’s going to help settle your friend’s estate probably is a good person to start with.
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