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What is a ‘trust protector,’ and do you need one?

A new idea for people who set up long-term trusts is that of the “trust protector.”

A trust protector is different from a trustee. A trustee’s job is to administer the trust on a day-to-day basis according to how it is written. A trust protector’s job is to “protect” the trust by making very occasional changes to its rules as needed to further its goals.

The idea is to keep a long-term trust serving the purposes you intended, despite inevitable changes in family situations and tax laws.

Trust protectors create an added level of complexity, and they’re not for everyone. But they might be worth considering if you have a revocable trust or are planning a new irrevocable trust.

A trust protector has whatever powers the person who sets up the trust grants to him or her. These could include:

  • Removing or replacing trustees
  • Expanding or limiting trustees’ powers
  • Amending the trust, terminating the trust, or changing where the trust is located due to changes in the law
  • Resolving disputes between trustees, or between trustees and beneficiaries
  • Changing the rules for distributions due to changes in the beneficiaries’ circumstances
  • Adding new beneficiaries when additional children are born
  • Vetoing distributions or investment decisions

A trust protector can be a good idea for long-term irrevocable trusts. For instance, many years from now it might be wise not to make a trust distribution to a child who is battling an addiction or facing an imminent divorce. It might also make financial sense to move the trust to another state with more favorable tax laws. A trust protector can make these decisions.

Of course, a trustee could be given the power to make certain discretionary decisions as well. But you might prefer to give the trustee job to a person or institution with a lot of investment savvy, and give the trust protector job to a family friend or advisor who is familiar with your wishes, goals and preferences and can represent those through the years.

However, you generally don’t want to name a trust protector who is also a trustee, beneficiary or immediate family member, because this can create conflicts as well as tax disadvantages.

 

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