Alexander A. Bove, Jr, Esq. highlights the considerable benefits and protections available to estate planners who settle their asset protection trust in the United States.
Asset protection planning has now earned a formal position in the world estate planning community, and the trust is the prominent vehicle used to accomplish the objective. Briefly, the settlor will establish a discretionary trust for the benefit of himself and/or his family in a jurisdiction that offers such trusts special protection from the settlor’s creditors. Currently, the more popular jurisdictions chosen for settlement of such Asset Protection Trusts (APTs) include the Cook Islands, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, and Liechtenstein.
For settlors in and around countries in Europe and the European Union (EU), however, many of these jurisdictions give rise to concerns about their proximity to each other and the fact that a reciprocity of judgment recognition scheme is rapidly developing in the EU area, so that a judgment in the UK, for instance, may be recognized in Austria, which in turn may be recognized in Liechtenstein.
Almost universally overlooked by such settlors as a favorable jurisdiction in which to settle their asset protection trust is the United States (US). As of writing, ten US states have adopted special laws favoring the self-settled asset protection trust, and although up until now the focus has been on the US settlor, the fact is that the United States Asset Protection Trust (USAPT) may be the ideal asset protection strategy for the non-US settlor.
As noted, a number of US states have enacted specific laws providing for the self-settlement of trusts, which, barring a fraudulent transfer, can protect the trust assets from claims of creditors of the settlor, even though the settlor may be a discretionary beneficiary. But as with all asset protection schemes wherever they take place, the question of a fraudulent transfer is the first issue to consider.
Where the settlor is a non-US person (a non-resident alien) and the transfer is made from a situs outside the US to the USAPT, the question arises as to which jurisdiction’s law will apply to the transfer, and thus, what would be the applicable limitations period on attacking the transfer as being fraudulent. As a general rule of law, the law of the situs of the transfer should govern. In that event, if a non-US person transferred assets to a USAPT, the non-US person’s creditors could attack the transfer in accordance with local law regarding fraudulent transfers. The problem for the creditor in such an event, however, is that he would then have to attempt to apply the foreign law in the US in pursuing the assets that were transferred to the USAPT.
The stereotypical USAPT legislation provides that a creditor of a settlor/beneficiary will not be able to reach assets of the self-settled trust so long as:
In the typical case, the creditor will obtain a judgment in the settlor/debtor’s home jurisdiction and then attempt to enforce that judgment against the trust in the US. As noted earlier, if the settlor, the creditor, and the trust are all in Europe or the UK, it may be possible for the creditor to enforce the judgment, as recent cases have demonstrated. On the other hand, if the APT is in the US, the creditor would:
In addition to the formidable barriers provided by the USAPT, there are considerable tax benefits as well. First, US tax law provides certain incentives to foreign investment in the US, and these may be obtained by a non-US person through a properly drafted USAPT. The benefits include total avoidance of US tax on capital gains (other than gains from US real estate) and tax on interest from bank accounts and US government or corporate bonds. And most of the US states that have asset protection trust legislation will not tax the trust if there are no beneficiaries in the particular state. The USAPT established by a non-US person should not hold shares in US corporations, as any dividends are subject to US withholding and tax. Further, on the death of the settlor, the shares will be considered US situs property and subject to US estate tax. The estate tax exposure can generally be avoided by holding the US shares in a foreign (non-US) corporation and holding the foreign corporation shares in the USAPT. [Note that the foregoing is a dangerously brief overview of some of the highlights of a US grantor trust established by a non-US person and offered only as an illustration of possible results in some circumstances.]
For non-US persons who seek creditor protection, the US should be one of the first jurisdictions to consider. The establishment of a trust in a US state that has enacted asset protection trust legislation may provide the settlor with benefits not found in any other asset protection jurisdictions in the world, including:
Copyright © 2009 by Alexander A. Bove, Jr. All rights reserved.
Alexander A Bove
Alexander A. Bove Jr. of Bove & Langa, is an internationally known and respected trust and estate attorney with over thirty-five years of experience. He is Adjunct Professor of Law, Emeritus, of Boston University Law School Graduate Tax Program, where he taught estate planning and advanced estate planning for eighteen years. Prior to that he taught estate planning for four years at Northeastern University Law School. In 1998 he was admitted to practice as a Solicitor in England and Wales. In addition to his J.D. and LL.M. degrees, in 2013, he earned his Doctorate in Law from the University of Zurich Law School.