The Demand for Fiduciary Services: Evidence from the Market in Private Donative Trusts

Adam Hofri-Winogradow

Volume 68, Issue 5, 931-1006

Recent revelations on the use of fiduciary services raise concerns regarding their use for tax and creditor avoidance. Yet given the secrecy shrouding much of the fiduciary industry, we do not know which fiduciary services are used for such purposes, and to what extent. Shining a light on a particularly obscure part of the industry, this Article presents and analyzes the results of the first-ever global survey of professional service providers to private donative trusts, having obtained 409 usable responses from professionals in 82 jurisdictions, amplified by twenty-five interviews conducted with professional trust service providers in five jurisdictions. I report new data on four controversial features of current trust practice: (1) perpetual and extreme long-term trusts; (2) trust terms exonerating trustees from liability to beneficiaries; (3) tools rendering beneficiaries’ entitlements inaccessible to their creditors; and (4) the control of trusts by their creators.

I find that trusts drafted to subsist for more than a century are fairly common, especially offshore, but many such trusts are not in fact likely to survive that long. Trustee exculpatory terms are now standard in donative trusts serviced by professionals, with most settlors neither demanding nor receiving any quid pro quo for their inclusion. Anti-creditor techniques protecting beneficiaries’ entitlements are even more ubiquitous than trustee exculpatory terms, particularly in trusts serviced by U.S.-resident providers. Many protected beneficiaries are not less able than the average person to take care of their financial affairs. Finally, express reservation of powers by trust settlors is a majority phenomenon in the United States, but a minority one elsewhere. The actual control of trusts by their settlors is likewise far more common in the United States than elsewhere. I conclude the Article with recommendations for law reform that makes trusts likelier to benefit their beneficiaries and less likely to avoid duties owed to creditors and the state.

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