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How Does a Cook Islands Asset Protection Trust Protect Me?
A Cook Islands asset protection trust is one of the most secure asset protection solutions in the world today. It can help keep your wealth and valuable assets out of the reach of potential lawsuits and creditors. This article explains what you need to know about using a Cook Islands trust to keep your hard-earned assets safe.
The Cook Islands’ legal system is very favorable toward individuals defending themselves in legal proceedings, such as seizures and forfeitures, and it is widely considered to be among the most protective systems in the world. The offshore asset protection trust statutes on the Cook Islands are among the most formidable asset protection laws. Even lawsuits or judgments originating from powerful countries like the United States will not be able to reach assets placed in trust there. To be protected by these statutes, however, assets must first be placed in a Cook Islands asset protection trust.
While your assets are in a trust, you can still retain beneficial ownership and can transact with them or request your trustee to transfer assets in or out of the trust. If a US court orders that you must turn over your assets, you must comply to the point you are able to do so. Failure to comply with a court order is considered contempt of court and generally carries heavy penalties, including fines and incarceration. However, since the assets are under the administration of a trustee outside the United States, a US court’s jurisdiction does not reach a Cook Islands trustee. Thus, you will not have the ability to hand over any assets assigned to a Cook Islands trust, which will defeat the purpose of the court order.
To demonstrate to the court that you are cooperating with a court order, you can instruct your trustee to obey and hand over the assets. However, because the laws of the Cook Islands prevent trustees from surrendering assets from a trust when the settlor (you) is under duress from a court order, the trustee can legally refuse to release the assets.
Advantages of a Cook Islands Offshore Trust
Here are some of the benefits of a Cook Islands Trust:
- You have protection for assets and investments, keeping them out of the reach of creditors, banks, or any court orders originating from outside the Cook Islands.
- There is a one- or two-year statute of limitations on all creditors that bring action against you or the trust.
- The Cook Islands do not charge taxes on assets held under a trust.
- The Cook Islands’ judicial system is considered “defendant friendly,” and there are several barriers to litigation already in place via the Cook Islands Asset Protection Trust Act.
- A Cook Islands trust can protect assets even if they are not located within the islands, and you can transact with them electronically.
- Several types of trust arrangements are available, and no trust deeds have to be publicly registered.
- A flexible trust structure that creates several investment opportunities
Top uses of a Cook Islands Trust
You can take advantage of a Cook Islands Trust to achieve the following:
- You can protect various types of liquid and tangible assets, such as intellectual property, investment portfolios, life insurance policies, and other types of financial assets.
- People in high-risk professions, such as business vendors, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and others, can use a Cook Islands trust to protect their assets during an economic or political crisis.
- You can also use a trust for preserving wealth, sharing wealth among family members, estate planning, retirement planning, diversifying assets, reducing estate taxes, protecting against lawsuits, and holding stock options.
Structure of a Cook Islands Trust
The structure of a Cook Islands trust is simple and consists of four parties:
- Settlor: He/she is the person who creates a trust and places assets under it—that’s you.
- Trustee(s): The trustee is the person who holds the assets’ legal title and administers the trust. There can be more than one trustee for a trust. All trustees are legally bound to protect a settlor’s assets on behalf of the trust’s beneficiaries.
- Trust protector: He/she is responsible for appointing trustees and overseeing their activities. The settlor appoints the protector to supervise the trust and to ensure the trustees are acting in the settlor’s best interest. The protector may be an attorney, trust protector company, family member, or some other trustworthy person.
- Beneficiary: He/she is the person who benefits from the trust. For most Cook Islands trusts, the beneficiary and the settlor are the same person. However, the settlor may add other individuals (e.g., family members or other loved ones) to the trust.
What Can a Cook Islands Trust Protect?
There are various assets you can use a Cook Islands trust to protect. That said, these trusts are most effective for protecting cash in a safe foreign bank account. Any funds on deposit with a US bank can potentially be reached by the US court system. In order to take full advantage of the protections offered by a Cook Islands trust, it is best practice to deposit monies in a non-US account, such as an account in Switzerland or Liechtenstein. Aside from cash in a foreign bank account, you can use a trust to protect the following:
- Stock market portfolios
- Investment portfolios
- Intellectual property
- Company stocks or shares
- Real estate
- Various other tangible and liquid assets
An asset does not need to be on the Cook Islands for it to be protected. That said, due to jurisdiction, judgments against real estate assets in the United States may not be fully protected.
Who Can Set Up a Cook Islands Trust?
Provided the trust is established for legitimate reasons, almost anyone can set up a Cook Islands trust. Our firm can help establish a comprehensive asset protection plan that fits your needs and offers dependable offshore asset protection.
Is a Cook Islands Trust Revocable or Irrevocable?
A Cook Islands trust is irrevocable. However, with the trustee’s assistance, a settlor can change the beneficiaries of a trust. Being irrevocable is important for asset protection purposes. If the settlor has the authority to change the trust without the trustee, a judge could make the settlor change the trust’s terms for the court to access assets under the trust. However, with the trustee’s cooperation being a prerequisite to change the terms of the trust, there’s a safety buffer for both the settlor and his/her assets.
Taxation of a Cook Islands Trust
The Cook Islands do not impose taxes on offshore trust assets. That means any assets held by a Cook Islands trust will not give rise to gift tax, estate tax, income tax, capital gains tax, or any other local taxes imposed by the Cook Islands. That makes the Islands a safe place to store assets without having to worry about taxes. However, it is important to note that transactions done in the Cook Islands or elsewhere could produce tax consequences in your home country.
Cook Islands Trust FAQ’s
It is the duty of a trust protector to oversee the activities of the trustee regarding a Cook Islands trust. While having a trust protector is not required, a settlor should appoint one as an extra security measure to look out for his/her interests and to veto any undesirable actions taken by the trustee.
A trustee manages the trust assets on behalf of the beneficiaries. The trustee is located in the Cook Islands to ensure that he/she is under the legal jurisdiction of only the Cook Islands and no other country. A trustee is legally bound to protect the trust assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. He/she holds the legal title to the trust’s assets and must not act in any way that could compromise the trust assets. If a settlor is under legal duress and is required by a court to hand over his/her assets, the trustee acts as the failsafe that blocks the court’s access to the assets. The trustee can do so because he/she is a Cook Islands resident and is not under the jurisdiction of any foreign court.
Also, during times of legal threat, the trustee can make payments from the trust or transfer funds on the settlor’s behalf, per instructions.
A Cook Islands trust is one of the safest offshore asset protection solutions. It has three primary safety features in place to protect your interests.
First, foreign courts and governments have no jurisdiction over trustees domiciled in the Cook Islands. To compel a trustee in the Cook Islands to act, the plaintiff would need to litigate (or relitigate from the beginning if the proceedings started in the United States) the entire issue at law before a court in the Cook Islands.
Second, a licensed and bonded professional fiduciary regulated by the Financial Supervisory Commission serves as the trustee. Only a firm or person who has undergone a comprehensive and thorough background check can become a licensed trustee. Also, since the trustee is bonded, your funds are insured against any wrongful actions by the trustee.
Third, a trustee cannot benefit from a trust. He/she can only step in when courts from outside the Cook Islands attempt to reach the trust assets. That is, the trustee can only behave in accordance with the laws of the Cook Islands, the terms of the trust, and your instructions as grantor.
Statute of Limitations on Fraudulent Conveyance
Statute of limitations is what the law prescribes regarding how long a person has to bring legal action regarding a specific case. If the statute of limitations has passed, the plaintiff is generally barred from bringing his/her lawsuit.
Fraudulent conveyance means transferring assets with the deliberate intention of putting the assets beyond a creditor’s reach, especially when the creditor has a legal claim to the asset. That means after the statute of limitations passes, a creditor can no longer bring a case to legally seize a debtor’s assets.
When you transfer your assets to a Cook Islands trust, there is a two-year statute of limitations for a creditor to bring an action against you or the trust. The statute of limitations starts from the day of the cause of action. Cause of action is the fact or event that enables a person to bring a legal action.
Offshore Asset Protection after a Lawsuit
If a creditor manages to obtain a court order to seize trust assets before the statute of limitations expires, there are still several barriers in the Cook Islands’ legal and financial systems that could frustrate these attempts.
The first barrier is having to litigate in the distant Cook Islands. While the legal system in the United States makes it easy to file a lawsuit and contingency fees mean plaintiffs can often sue others without paying a dime, the legal system in the Cook Islands is not so considerate toward plaintiffs. Bringing a lawsuit in the Cook Islands is an expensive and lengthy process. Another barrier is the fact that the legal burden lies on the person bringing the lawsuit to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that assets were placed in a Cook Islands trust with the objective to defraud. In most cases, meeting this standard of proof is quite challenging considering there are multiple legitimate reasons to set up an offshore trust.
As an established asset protection law firm, we’ve set up numerous asset protection trusts for clients. Moreover, as of the date this article was published, we have never seen any of our clients lose assets placed in a Cook Islands trust. This is strong proof that protecting your assets under a Cook Islands trust is safe. You can also confirm this yourself by researching available case law.
Cook Islands Trust Formation Cost
When forming a Cook Islands trust, there are a number of items that add to the cost of trust formation, such as trustee expenses, bank account fees, brokerage fees, trust protector fees, IRS reporting requirements, and annual fees. Taking this into account, an offshore asset protection trust usually costs between $25,000 and $50,000 to set up, plus the annual fees, which typically range from $5,000 to $10,000 per year. However, at Blake Harris Law, we have established longstanding relationships with our Cook Islands service providers that allow us room for negotiation on trust formation fees. Accordingly, we can offer competitive pricing and affordable annual fees on a Cook Islands trust. Contact us via phone at 786-559-1209 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for a no-obligation consultation and trust formation pricing to suite your asset protection needs.
The formation of a Cook Islands trust involves multiple moving parts, contractual agreements, and parties. The best way to ensure your Cook Islands trust is formed properly is to hire an experienced asset protection attorney who has reputable relationships with trusted companies in the Cook Islands, like Attorney Blake Harris.
The formation of a Cook Islands Trust has multiple moving parts, contractual agreements, and parties involved. The best way to ensure that your Cook Islands Trust is formed properly is to hire an experienced asset protection attorney who has reputable relationships with trust companies in the Cook Islands, like Attorney Blake Harris.
That being said, there are a number of documents and contracts required to establish a Cook Islands Trust, including the following:
- Passport or driver’s license: A copy of your certified passport or driver’s license is needed for identification purposes.
- Evidence of funds and banking reference letter: Cook Islands trusts are generally set up by high-net-worth individuals who want to preserve their wealth and are in high-risk professions (e.g., doctors, bankers, lawyers, etc.). To form a Cook Islands Trust, the trustee requires evidence of funds and banking reference letters to see that the settlor has the funds and can transfer those funds to the trust when the time comes. The trustee will also want to see this proof of funds and conduct a financial background check to ensure the finances and structure of the trust do not violate regional trust laws and comply with international money laundering regulations.
- Proof address: The settlor will need to provide a proof address, which can be a recent original credit card or bank statement or a utility bill that shows evidence of the settlor’s physical address.
- Trust deed: A trust deed is a document that sets guidelines for the powers, responsibilities, and duties of the settlor, trustee, trust protector, beneficiaries, and other parties involved.
- Deed of indemnity: A deed of indemnity is a contract that is designed to protect the trustee from the risk of litigation and/or financial liabilities.
- Letter of wishes: A letter of wishes is not always necessary nor is it legally binding, but it serves an important purpose nonetheless. A letter of wishes is written by the settlor to the trustee to provide information (or wishes) beyond that outlined in the trust. It is up to the trustee to consider this document and act accordingly.
- Sworn affidavit of solvency or solvency certificate: A sworn affidavit of solvency is a signed document in which the settlor declares he/she can meet all financial obligations—existing and anticipated. Similarly, a solvency certificate may be required by the trustee of the settlor to show the financial stability of the settlor. These documents are generally required to protect the trustee and financial institutions.
In addition to the requirements of a Cook Islands trust, there are structural aspects to the formation of the trust. There are four parties needed for the structure of the trust: settlor, trustee, trust protector, and beneficiary.
In addition to the requirements of a Cook Islands Trust, there are structural aspects to the formation of the trust. There are four parties needed for the structure of the trust: settlor, trustee, trust protector and beneficiary.
Common Problems When Setting Up a Cook Islands Trust
As a trusted asset protection law firm, the team at Blake Harris Law will help you navigate issues surrounding establishing a Cook Islands trust. We have seen some of the following problems arise in the offshore asset protection industry.
- Reputable Trustees: A trustee can be a trusted individual, a lawyer, an accountant, a bank, or a professional trustee company in a foreign country. Reputable trustee companies have insurance policies with well-known insurance companies that make sure clients are covered should loss or negligence occur within these trustee companies. They also conduct “know your customer” (KYC) and “anti-money laundering” (AML)/”combating the financing of terrorism” (CFT) checks on settlors. A licensed trustee company must ensure that sufficient documentation exists regarding the origin of the funds to be held in trust. When looking for a reputable offshore trustee company or other entity, it is important to understand its insurance policies, ensure it will conduct KYC and AML/CFT checks on settlors, and know its track record when it comes to satisfied clients.
- Retaining Control: Some settlors are not willing to relinquish control of their assets to a trustee, and this can create a problem. If a settlor does not relinquish control of his/her assets to a trustee, then the settlor’s assets could still be vulnerable to creditors and litigation.
- Failure to Report to IRS Filings and Federal Disclosures: If assets are placed in a Cook Islands trust by a US citizen or resident or a US citizen or resident is the beneficiary of a trust, that does not mean those assets should not be reported to the IRS. The settlor and/or beneficiary has to report the assets (including inherited assets) held by a Cook Islands trust. People who do not file with the IRS or report federal disclosures could find themselves with federal tax compliance issues.
Is the Cook Islands Trust the Best Offshore Trust?
A Cook Islands trust is well regarded as the best offshore trust to shield assets from lawsuits, claims, and creditors. One of the biggest reasons a Cook Islands trust is regarded as the best offshore trust is the trust jurisdiction. Cook Islands courts do not recognize foreign judgements. If creditors seek to claim a settlor’s assets held by a Cook Islands trust, those creditors have to file a lawsuit in the Cook Islands before the statute of limitation expires. They must then pay legal and court fees upfront and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the assets were placed in a Cook Islands trust with the intent to defraud. This entire process is lengthy and expensive; plus, the statute of limitations is only two years in the Cook Islands, which makes filing a lawsuit an urgent matter. Because of these factors, creditors will face significant hurdles if they attempt to breach a Cook Island trust.
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Contact a Cook Islands Trust Attorney
If you would like to learn more about how you can secure your assets and keep your hard-earned wealth out of the reach of potential creditors and lawsuits, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation. Blake Harris Law can help you set up a Cook Islands trust that protects you without compromising your access to your wealth.