Legal

What Does a Trust Attorney Do? (And How to Hire One)

By
Dominion
Updated:
October 4, 2023
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8 min read
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You’re a doctor, a TV star, an investor, or anyone else with seven figures or more that you need to protect from overly aggressive judges, lawsuit plaintiffs, and even distant cousins twice removed who think they have a claim to your rightful inheritance. In these cases and more, the best way to protect assets from legal attacks is a trust.

Of course, you can't make a trust, even if you do have some knowledge of the law. You need a specialist called a trust attorney. Like with all experts, hiring the first trust attorney you find is a less-than-stellar idea, so let's take a look at what a trust attorney does and how to hire one smartly.

What is a Trust Attorney?

A trust attorney is a lawyer who specializes in the creation of, understanding, and defense of trusts. More importantly, a trust attorney is the only type of lawyer who can create a legal trust with binding provisions or defenses.

Say you want to make a trust that protects a certain percentage of your wealth for 20 years. You can’t have a personal injury lawyer draw up the paperwork and expect it to stick in court. You need a trust attorney to do it for you.

Trust attorneys are also sometimes called estate attorneys or estate lawyers. Most of their work deals with the estates of high-net-worth individuals like yourself. No matter what they are called, your trust attorney will be the most important human element in your trust instrument, and they can make or break the legal armor you want to place around your assets.

Services Offered by Trust Attorneys

Trust attorneys – in addition to writing and modifying trusts – also usually provide some additional or complementary services. These include:

  • Trustee services. Many trust attorneys will act as the trustees for the trusts they create. Trustees are the overseers of trusts, and many people with wealth to protect assign someone other than themselves to the trustee spot so they personally can’t be legally compelled to access the assets in the trust later on
  • Protector services. A trust protector is a third party that bestows a power on the trustee to modify irrevocable trusts to comply with a grantor's original intent, if the grantor is unable to do so. Again, assigning someone other than yourself to the trust protector position is a wise a strategic move in most cases
  • Advisory services. Any good trust attorney worth your time and money will offer sound legal counsel. They'll tell you what is or isn't a good idea regarding the makeup of your trust and do whatever they can to maximize its effectiveness

Of course, advisory organizations like Dominion can also provide you with a full stack of similar services. Our team of trust attorneys, trustees, advisors, and financial planners is well-equipped and ready to handle any trust-related effort needed to guarantee the defense of your wealth. When you work with Dominion, you don’t need to go anywhere else. 

Do You Always Need a Trust Attorney?

Yes, full-stop. If you think that you can make a trust without a trust attorney, don't. A trust attorney is absolutely necessary for the process, both in practical and legal senses.

Legally speaking, you need a trust attorney to create a legally binding instrument. If you try to write up trust paperwork yourself, no judge will take it seriously or heed its contents. Practically speaking, a trust attorney knows more than you do about this subject.

The same way you trust a surgeon to stitch you up after a major injury, you should also trust a trust lawyer to create a trust that perfectly suits your needs and protects your assets against future assaults.

If you hire the right trust attorney, that is.

Hiring a Trust Attorney – Key Considerations

Of course, that’s the trick. Anyone can hire a trust attorney. But hiring the best trust attorney for your needs is absolutely vital. The effectiveness of your trust is the only salient point when it comes to protecting your assets and wealth, both in perpetuity or for a certain amount of time. The attorney you choose will certainly impact how effective your trust is in the event of a legal attack.

With that in mind, we recommend focusing on two things (aside from cost, which you can consider at your discretion based on your budget): the attorney’s experience and jurisdictional focus, and whether or not they offer comprehensive advisory services.

Attorney Experience and Jurisdictional Focus

Naturally, you want an experienced attorney. No one with your wealth and estate to protect should approach a greenhorn lawyer and ask for help. You should only approach lawyers and law firms that have decades of experience under their belt.

Barring that, they should have absolutely top-tier reviews and recommendations from peers in your social and professional networks. If you know someone who has offshore trusts that have stood the test of time, ask them who created the trust(s) to get some recommendations.

But aside from raw experience, you want a multi-jurisdictional focus. This means that the attorney knows the laws of – and knows how to create a trust that protects against the laws of – multiple countries or jurisdictions.

Say that you want to set up an offshore trust that protects your estate against attacks from the US, the UK, and other Western countries. To be maximally protective, that trust therefore needs to have jurisdictional provisions for US law, UK law, European law, and the laws of the “home jurisdiction” or the jurisdiction of the trust’s host country.

That’s a tall order! But make no mistake that it is highly important. Do not – we repeat – do not hire a lawyer who only has experience in one jurisdiction. This is an early and avoidable weakness in your trust that could lead to serious fallout later down the road.

You Do Not Want an Attorney Who Only Has Experience in Their Jurisdiction

The big thing to keep in mind when looking for a trust attorney is – maybe ironically – multi-jurisdictional focus instead of experience and specialization in only one jurisdiction. In fact, if an attorney only has experience in their jurisdiction, look for a different legal advisor.

To illustrate why, let’s roll the clock back 30 or so years to the 1990s. In those days, there was much greater defensibility with trust instruments across the board. But over the years, judges across a variety of US states have led to precedent changes in their jurisdictions and territories. As case law has evolved over time, trusts that are valid and airtight in one jurisdiction became not quite as defensible in every jurisdiction.

These days, there is much more scrutiny regarding trusts of all types, and particularly offshore trusts. Say that you’re the recent inheritor of seven figures and want to protect that wealth for your kids or for whatever other purpose. 

If you pick a trust attorney who creates new trusts the same way they have been for 30 years, don’t be surprised if that trust isn’t as durable as you imagine when a judge asks for what’s inside it.

Trusts that are written only considering rules and laws in one jurisdiction:

  • Don’t stand up to judicial scrutiny in many Western countries, such as the US, the UK, Australia, and more
  • Are less versatile in their defense. A judge in another jurisdiction could say, “I don’t care about the jurisdiction of your trust – unravel it or go to jail”

It doesn’t matter if an offshore trust is written perfectly and is totally defensible in its home jurisdiction. It won’t be effective if it isn’t written with consideration to all the other jurisdictions that might apply to your case.

And remember, all that matters when it comes to your trust is how effective it is. If it is ineffective in even one place, it's not effective enough, so you should look for a different attorney or law firm.

Why Do People Make These Mistakes?

Generally, high-net-worth individuals will hire an attorney to write a legally defensible trust document in one jurisdiction because it's cheap, easy, and it seems like a popular, normal thing to do. But it's an ultimately flawed idea, and one that gets a lot of people in trouble if they are ever sued or if their trusts are compromised through some other legal effort.

It’s easier than you think to accidentally get saddled with a contempt charge, especially if you think that your trust is airtight and secure!

Advisory Services – Not Just a Follower

On top of the above major focus, hire a trust attorney that offers comprehensive advisory services.

Put simply, you don’t want an attorney that nods their head and says, “Yes sir/ma’am,” to everything that comes out of your mouth. The best trust attorneys aren’t just followers. They are more than willing to lend their extensive expertise to your case and speak up if needed.

A good trust attorney will tell you when you are making a mistake or inform you if they think putting something in the trust or including a certain provision is not a good idea. Stellar advisory services will ensure that your trust is as protective as possible. 

The Big Benefit of Working with a Multi-Jurisdictional Legal Expert

Working with a multi-jurisdictional legal expert has a big benefit (aside from, of course, satisfying the requirement that you work with an attorney to draw trust paperwork in the first place). That benefit is superior trust defensibility.

Imagine two different lawyers who can theoretically draw up the paperwork for your offshore trust:

  • The first lawyer is arguably the expert in the trust’s home jurisdiction (Bermuda, the Cook Islands, etc. – take your pick). They’ve been in the business for over 30 years and were, in fact, present when trust laws were first written in that jurisdiction. If they write your trust paperwork, there’s no denying that it will be as secure as a fortress in legal terms… at least, in their home jurisdiction
  • The second lawyer is an expert not just in your trust’s home jurisdiction, but also all the jurisdictions where you live or have residences and in all the jurisdictions where you have business interests. Not only can they draw up a trust with legal defenses in one place, but they can do so to ensure your legal security in all relevant jurisdictions

Put that way, why wouldn’t you choose the second lawyer? It’s a no-brainer.

By going with the second lawyer, your trust won’t be compromised because a judge in another jurisdiction decides he’s had enough of your claims that you can’t access the assets within the trust. 

If the trust is written correctly, the judge won’t be able to order you to open the trust for a lawsuit plaintiff or any other interested party.

More than that, the second lawyer is a better bet in the long term. If they are already an expert in multiple jurisdictions, the odds are good that they will keep abreast of precedent and legal changes in those jurisdictions going forward. 

Therefore, if your trust needs an update or you need to set up a second trust 10 years down the line, you can still rely on that attorney/law firm to create a good, defensible trust vehicle for you and any descendants.

Working with Dominion Gets You Legal Access Where You Need It

In the end, hiring a trust attorney means finding a legal advisor who:

  • Is specialized in the area of trust writing and framing
  • Is knowledgeable in all the jurisdictions that you or your business interests operate within

Sound difficult? It doesn’t have to be.

At Dominion, we operate a globally aware network of attorneys specializing in different areas and jurisdictions. 

More importantly, we’ll ensure the effectiveness and safety of your trust, your estate, your future heirs, and much more. This is a complex business, but we’re the best at what we do. Don’t leave the security of your trust to chance – leave it to Dominion instead.

Dominion

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