• Amy Privette

Why is John Rockefeller in my trust?

Those who take the time to read through their entire revocable living trust sometimes make a startling discovery! Their trust includes a reference to John Rockefeller and his family, prompting the question "Why is John Rockefeller in my trust?"

First of all, there is no need to fret. No member of the Rockefeller family is being named as your heir. The Rockefellers will not be inheriting from you. Somehow, I think they'll come out okay, though.


Secondly, the reason for the reference is simple - it is a safety net to ensure your trust can continue in existence as long as possible.


Under current North Carolina law, revocable living trusts can live forever. There is no definitive end date. This is not the case in all 50 states. Many states will not allow the trust to exist more than 21 years after a "life in being," that is a life in existence at the time the trust was created. This is due to the common law Rule Against Perpetuities (RAP). It is a complex rule that is the nightmare of law school students everywhere! Other states have adopted the Uniform Statutory Rule Against Perpetuities (USRAP) that applies a 90-year termination date instead of 21 years. If you move to a state that has a different perpetuity law than North Carolina, the John Rockefeller provision will be key to making sure your trust lives long enough to do all the things we need it to do.


Also, although North Carolina has no termination date for revocable living trusts currently, that may not always be the case. It certainly is not possible to predict every potential change in the law, but this is one that is relatively easy to plan for. If the State adopted the common law RAP or the USRAP, the John Rockefeller provision protects you and your family because it helps to make sure we have the longest measuring life possible to use as our life in being.


The safest way to get a long measuring life when calculating the number of years a trust is allowed to exist in a state with perpetuity laws is to name someone who has tons and tons and tons and tons of descendants. The families typically chosen for clauses like this are the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, Brigham Young, King George VI, or Queen Victoria. Because these families are well-known, their descendants can generally be traced despite all the different branches of the family tree. Also, because these families are huge, there is a strong likelihood that some descendant has a newborn or young child around the time your trust is created, and by tying the life of your trust to that life in being, you are giving your trust the longest life span possible.

The chance that this language would be needed is relatively remote for those who always live within the bounds of North Carolina, but a good estate planning attorney plans for the possibilities, not just the probabilities. Having John Rockefeller in your trust is nothing to lose sleep over. It's really just a savings clause in case North Carolina changes the law in this area in the future.

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