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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 will explain what you need to know about using a Cook Islands Trust to keep your hard-earned assets safe.

The Cook Islands is a collection of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. This small nation’ sovereignty was fully recognized in the 1980s.

The Cook Islands’ legal system is very favorable towards individuals defending themselves in legal proceedings, such as seizures and forfeitures, and it is widely considered to be amongst the most protective 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 such as the United States won’t be able to reach assets placed in trust there. In order to be protected by these statutes, the assets must first be placed in a Cook Islands Asset Protection Trust.

While your assets are in the trust, you can still retain full ownership and can transact with them or transfer them in or out of the company under the trust. However, if there’s a legal proceeding against you, your trustee in the Cook Islands will immediately take over the management of the trust, effectively keeping them out of reach. The point of this? If a U.S. court orders that you must turn over your assets, you must comply. 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 now under the administration of a trustee outside the U.S., the jurisdiction of a court in the U.S. doesn’t 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 the 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:

  • Protection for assets and investments, keeping them out of the reach of creditors, banks, or any court orders originating from outside the Cook Islands
  • A two-year statute of limitations on all creditors that bring an 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 that aren’t located within the islands and you can transact with them electronically
  • Several types of trust arrangements are available and none of the 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:

  • 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, like 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 the trust for wealth preservation, sharing wealth among family members, estate planning, retirement planning, diversifying assets, reducing estate taxes, lawsuit protection, and holding stock options.

Structure of a Cook Islands Trust

The structure of a Cook Islands Trust is simple, consisting of four parties to the trust:

  • Settlor: He/she is the one who creates a trust and places assets under it—that’s you.
  • Trustees: There can be more than one trustee. The trustee(s) is the one who holds the assets’ legal title and administers the trust. Also, 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 that the trustee is acting in the settlor’s best interest. The protector may be an attorney, family member, or some other trustworthy person.
  • Beneficiary: He/she is the one who benefits from the trust. For most Cook Islands Trusts, the beneficiary and the settlor are the same person. But the settlor may add other persons (such as family members or other loved ones) to the trust.

What Can a Cook Islands Trust Protect?

There are various assets that you can use a Cook Islands Trust to protect. That said, the trust is most effective for protecting cash in a safe foreign bank account. Any funds on deposit with a U.S. bank could potentially be reached by the U.S. court system. In order to take full advantage of the protections offered by a Cook Islands Trust, it is best practices to deposit monies in a non-US account, such as Switzerland or Luxembourg.

Aside from cash in a foreign bank account, you can use the trust to protect the following:

  • Stock market portfolios
  • Investment portfolios
  • Intellectual property
  • Company stocks or shares
  • Real estate

And various other tangible and liquid assets.

An asset doesn’t need to be on the Cook Islands for it to be protected. That said, due to jurisdiction, judgments against real estate assets in the U.S. 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 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 a trust’s terms for the court to access assets under the trust. But 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 assets.

Taxation of a Cook Islands Trust

As long as an asset is under a Cook Islands International Trust, the islands will charge no taxes on it. That means any assets that you have on the Cook Islands (and under a trust) won’t be liable for 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 worries about taxes. But note that transactions done in the Cook Islands or elsewhere could produce tax consequences in your home country.

Cook Islands Trust FAQ’s

1What is the role of a Trust Protector

It is the duty of a trust protector to oversee the activities of the trustee regarding the Cook Islands Trust. While having a trust protector isn’t necessary, a settlor can appoint one as an extra security measure to look out for his/her interests and to veto any unsatisfactory/suspicious actions taken by the trustee on behalf of the settlor.

2What is the role of the Trustee?

A trustee manages assets on behalf of the settlor. The trustee must legally reside 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 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 required by a court to hand over his assets, the trustee acts as the failsafe that blocks the court’s access to the assets. That’s because the trustee is a Cook Islands resident and isn’t under the jurisdiction of any court outside the islands.

Also, during times of legal threat, a trustee can make payments from the trust or transfer funds on the settlor’s behalf, per instructions. That means you can still access your assets even though the courts can’t force you to retake control of it from the trust.

3Is there anything to worry about?

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 assets on the Cook Islands. In order to compel a trustee in the Cook Islands to act, the plaintiff would need to litigate (or re-litigate from the beginning, if the proceedings have already started in the U.S.) the entire issue at law before a court in the Cook Islands.

Secondly, a licensed and bonded professional fiduciary regulated by the Financial Supervisory Commission serves as the trustee. Only a firm or person that has undergone comprehensive and thorough background checks can become a licensed trustee. And since the trustee is bonded, your funds are insured against any wrongful actions by the trustee.

Thirdly, the trustee cannot benefit from the trust. He/she can only step in when courts from outside the Cook Islands attempt to reach the trust assets. That is, a trustee can only behave in accordance to 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 for a case passes, 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.

Actions of fraudulent transfer are a civil matter, not a criminal one. When you transfer your assets to a Cook Islands Trust, there is a two-year statute of limitations for the creditor to bring an action against you or the trust. The statute of limitations starts counting from the day of the cause of action. Cause of action is the origin of why a person is bringing legal action against you and your assets.

Offshore Asset Protection after a Lawsuit

If a creditor manages to obtain a court order authorizing to seize trust assets before the statute of limitations expires, there are still several barriers in the Cook Islands legal and financial system that could frustrate these attempts.

The first barrier is having to litigate in the distant Cook Islands. While the U.S. legal system 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 towards plaintiffs. Bringing a lawsuit in the Cook Islands is an expensive and lengthy process. Another barrier is the fact that the legal burden will lie on the person bringing the lawsuit to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that assets were placed in the Cook Islands Trust with the objective to defraud. In most cases, meeting such standard of proof is quite challenging, considering that there are multiple legitimate reasons to set up an offshore trust.

Case Law

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 a client lose any of their 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.

Contact a Cook Islands Trust Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how you could secure your assets and keep your hard-earned wealth out of reach from potential creditors or lawsuits, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation. Blake Harris Law can help you set up a Cook Islands Trust that protects your fortune without compromising your access to your wealth.