Why is John Rockefeller in my trust?!

March 8, 2018

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?"

 

The reason 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 highly unusual. 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. North Carolina, however, has no termination date.

 

Still, if North Carolina were to ever revert back to the common law RAP or the USRAP, we want to make sure we have the longest life possible to use as our measuring life in being. To do that, we name someone who has tons and tons and tons of descendants. Typical choices 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 remote, 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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