A Cook Islands trust is a type of trust that many use to protect assets from lawsuits. It is an offshore asset protection trust established under the Cook Islands International Trusts Act, originally established in 1984. The trust allows the one who established the trust (the settlor or grantor) to also be a beneficiary and enjoy the legal protection of trust assets.
In addition, there have been a number of amendments over the years. Most have been to strengthen the asset protection provisions. Plus, the legislature has made other changes to comply with international requirements, such as requiring identification from those who establish the trust. Updates have also made legal clarifications, which strengthened the protection against fraudulent conveyance claims. First, let’s look into the reasons why the Cook Islands established these trust laws.
Cook Islands Trust Laws
The Cook Islands legislature amended the International Trust act in 1989. As such, they were the first jurisdiction to add strong asset protection statutes to their trust law. More specifically, the settlor (the one who establishes the trust) can also be the beneficiary while enjoying protection of his or her assets. Prior to this, most asset protection trust law required one to give assets to the trustee of the trust without retaining any beneficial interest in the trust or its assets. Cook Islands’ robust statutes lead to other jurisdictions such as Nevis and Belize copying these provisions.
The purpose of the amendment was to protect the assets of clients in ways that no other jurisdiction did at the time. Being the first to offer such laws gives Cook Islands trusts a leg up on the competition. This is because early adoption of these statutes has allowed for a significant case law history. That is, there are now many cases that the courts have tested. When established properly, the trust has consistently protected trust assets.
According to the Cook Islands Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) there are 2,200 to 3,000 trusts created per year as of this writing. Our organizations has established more Cook Islands trusts than any other organization in the world. We have established companies and trusts in the country since 1996.
One of the major benefits is that the Cook Islands do not enforce foreign judgments. Notably, it is one of the few countries in the world that offers this benefit. In addition, since your local courts do not have jurisdiction in the Cook Islands, trustees consistently refuse to comply with civil subpoenas for records. So, you not only have protection but anonymity. So, the Cook Islands is the only country in the world that offers both powerful asset protection and a strong, long-standing case law history.
Benefits of a Cook Islands Trust
Cook Islands Trusts offer tremendous benefits. These include strong asset protection from lawsuits, long track record and a strong case law history. Here are some additional advantages:
- Strong asset protection case law history.
- Part of New Zealand, the most trusted (least corrupt) country in the world according the Transparency International (see Wikipedia article). (1)
- Does not recognize foreign court orders.
- Does not recognize foreign judgments.
- To attempt to reach trust assets, one must sue in the Cook Islands and overcome substantial legal hurdles.
- Assets are protected immediately once placed into the trust, which has very debtor-friendly laws.
- After the statute of limitations of one to two years has expired, the Cook Islands courts will refuse to hear challenges to assets transferred into the trust.
- One can locate assets anywhere in the world (preferably in a debtor-friendly country).
- One can conduct financial transactions over the Internet.
- Oldest and most tested international asset protection trust structure.
- Creditor must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt rather than by a mere preponderance of the evidence. This is a high burden of proof usually reserved for criminal cases.
- Creditor must prove that the settlor created the trust to defraud, not just any creditor, but that particular creditor.
- Trust has other benefits such as estate planning and international diversification, which one can give as reasons for establishing the trust in order to avert creditor claims.
- Trust deed is not recorded in the public records.
- Allows for a wide variety of investment options.
- Protects assets even if settlor or beneficiaries declare bankruptcy.
(1) The Cook Islands is self-governed in free association with New Zealand. Cook Islanders also have citizenship in New Zealand.
Most Common Assets
People use Cook Islands Trust to protect both liquid assets and tangible assets. These uses include the following:
- Protecting investments (stock market, bank accounts and otherwise)
- Real estate asset protection, using equity stripping strategies
- Divorce asset protection
- Protecting assets after a lawsuit is filed
- Protecting intellectual property (e.g. patent, copyright, trademark)
Most Common Uses
Asset protection planning for high-risk professions. For example, these include physicians, attorneys, real estate investors and developers and other business owners. Here are additional examples of how one would use an asset protection trust, a Cook Islands trust, in particular:
- Pre-divorce or pre-marital planning
- Leverage to negotiate a legal settlement
- Estate planning
- Wealth preservation
- Family legacy planning (Cook Islands trusts can last indefinitely)
- To avoid forced heirship laws (so you can choose who inherits your assets)
- Protection from lawsuits
- Holding a stock market portfolio
- Planning for retirement
Features of the Cook Islands Offshore Trust
Cook Island Trust Costs & Needs
To establish a Cook Islands trust, most law firms charge between $35,000 to $50,000. Since our organization establishes the trusts for many attorneys in the country, we cannot publish our prices online. However, we can establish your trust for a fraction of that cost. Call us for details or complete a consultation form on this page.
In addition, one must provide the legally required know-your-client (KYC) documentation. This is to help ensure that one will use the trust for legal purposes only. For instance, documents to fulfill this need include a client assessment data form, affidavit or solvency and trust information document. In addition, one must sign a money laundering control act to ensure funds come from a legal source. There is also a deed of indemnity to sign. Plus, one must provide a photocopy of a passport that a notary public has certified as a true copy of the original. Other requirements include a proof of source of wealth and a proof of address (such as a utility bill). Finally, one must provide a reference letter from a current banker. The trustee may require additional items, if needed.
Our organization provides for a registered office. We can also help remind you about the filing to renew your trust annually.
About the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands consists of 15 major islands. The Islands are situated northeast of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. They are located between American Samoa and French Polynesia and due south of Hawaii. A paradise of uncommon tropical beauty, visitors enjoy pristine beaches, clear azure waters, and rich fishing grounds. Notably, the island was one of the locations for the popular TV series, Survivor.
In addition, the islands offer a different kind of attraction. It offers a refuge for individuals who seek to protect their assets from a known legal nemesis or even unforeseeable circumstances. With its powerful offshore asset protection trust statutes, this self-governing island country has some of the strongest asset protection laws in the world. Even the long arm of the United States government – a formidable entity if there ever was one – flails at the shores of this tiny Pacific nation.
For this reason, a Cook Islands Trust may just prove to be the the fortress you are looking for; the best way to make sure your assets are safe from seizure or forfeiture. You can see in this comparison chart that Cook Islands trust stands above other jurisdictions. It effectively protects assets from lawsuits no matter where in the world a judgement may have been issued against you. So, how does an offshore asset protection trust work in the Cook Islands?
How a Cook Islands Trust Protects your Assets
We establish both a trust and a limited liability company (LLC). You place your assets in a bank account that the LLC holds. The Trust owns 100% of the LLC. You are the initial manager of the LLC and signatory on its bank account. Thus, you remain in control while the legal seas are calm. You can move funds in or out of the LLC. And you can do so no matter where on the planet you happen to be. You can sell or add tangible assets, and (working with a trustee). You can work with the trustee to amend the terms of the Trust. Naturally, you do this within the bounds of legal and protective provisions, as your personal or professional situation dictates.
When legal seas get stormy, your trustee (our Cook Islands law firm) can step in a manager of your LLC. Your local courts do not have legal authority over our international law firm. Thus, orders to return the trust funds to your local courts go unanswered. You are cooperating. But your trustee is not under legal obligation to do so. Therefor, your funds remain secure within the trust.
Keep in mind the primary purpose of placing the LLC within the Trust. First, it is to provide a means for you to control your money as the manager of the LLC. Second, is makes for an easy transition when you need the trustee to step in to secure your funds.
Moreover, the purpose is not to conceal your assets from the government. It is to protect them. As such, any personal or business taxes that are due on the income that your assets generate are still your responsibility. So, the structure is tax neutral. However, there is no law that prevents you from securing the assets you have worked hard to accumulate. And at the current time, there are few asset protection instruments that are stronger than a Cook Islands Trust.
The Role of the Trustee
Let’s say a court issues a judgement against you that could threaten the assets included in your Cook Islands LLC. At that point, a trustee steps in to take over the reins temporarily. The trustee’s sole purpose is to protect the assets of the LLC within the Trust.
If you were in the driver’s seat and were ordered by a court to turn over your assets, you would have to comply. Likewise, the trustee of a Domestic trust, that is, a trust in your home county, must comply. That’s why Nevada Trusts, Wyoming Trusts, Delaware trusts don’t work very well. However, the trustee is not under the jurisdiction of the court, so the orders fall on deaf ears.
As a lawful citizen of your country, you are obliged to instruct the trustee to obey the court’s ruling. So, if you had control, you would have to surrender your assets to the court. The court, in turn, would grant it to the person or entity who has won the lawsuit against you. However, the verbiage we place in the trust prevents trustees from releasing funds from the trust to the courts. When the person requesting this action is under duress from a legal opponent, the trustee will refuse to comply. This is the case if a judge was compelling you against your will with a court order.
Impossibility to Act
This places you in a legal situation known as an “impossibility to act” scenario. Now, you have complied with the court ruling. But your legal enemy still cannot access your assets. This is because the trustee, acting according to and safeguarded by the asset protection laws of Cook Islands, will not release them. In other words, it’s out of your hands. This is not mere legalese nor an example of sleight-of-hand. This is a legitimate countermeasure. It is one that you can employ (through your trustee) to preserve the assets you placed in a Cook Islands Trust.
Let’s face it. There is no shortage of individuals who are keen on ‘earning’ some type of compensation by milking the judicial system. This is the case in the US or in practically any other country in the world. It could a disgruntled employee. It could be a bitter ex-spouse or business partner, or even a disappointed client. Placing your assets in an LLC under the protection of a Cook Islands Trust keeps you in the driver’s seat. This is true even when a legal enemy wins a lawsuit against you or your business in your home country.
The Trustee is Your Ally
It’s important to know that the laws in Cook Islands regarding the licensing of trustees are clear. They are comprehensive and strictly enforced. Moreover, the government thoroughly vets the Trustees. The trustees hold surety bonds (insurance that protects you, the client). Plus, regulators thoroughly research their backgrounds prior issuing them licenses.
A licensed trustee is, therefore, eligible to take over as a manager of an LLC within the Trust when needed. In the highly unlikely event that a trustee misappropriates your assets, the bond is to give you peace of mind. So, you know that your assets remain protected.
Surrendering control of your assets in the LLC may cause one to ask about the integrity of the trustee. However, we invite you to you look into the history of Cook Islands trustees. You will find a heavily regulated industry with a longstanding track record of proper fiduciary responsibility. Moreover, a court order against you would take your assets anyway. Therefore, it is a risk that thousands of people think is worth taking. Having the Trustee step in as LLC manager is a temporary and prudent step you can take when needed. As such, you take it avert the possibility of losing your assets altogether. When the legal crises passes, control and management of all your assets revert back to you.
If needed, you can use a portion of the funds in your LLC to cover certain financial obligations. This may include including living, business and legal expenses. The trustee can continue to do this for you, if needed. You can do this in the event that the courts prevent you from directly accessing your assets. We automatically draft the trust with this contingency plan ahead of time.
Trusts have a longstanding history with the courts. Trusts have been around since the time of the 11th and 12th century crusades. William the Conqueror became King in 1066. Under him, his kingdom created the “common law” of England. During the crusades, landowners who went to battle would transfer title to their land to a person they trusted. Therefore, someone could perform the services to the king. In that jurisdiction, they created the first papal trust. It was the year 1302 when Pope Bonifce VIII had legal experts draft the Unum Sanctum. The 1481 Trust, Aeterini Regis, was created eleven years before Christopher Columbus set sail with three boats full of Conquistadores. The present-day United States has used trust since the colonial days.
So, the courts are very familiar with trusts. Case law shows that if there is a foreign trustee of a properly established trust, it effectively protects assets. We coordinate the trust in conjunction with the proper foreign financial institution. As such, this arrangement puts the control out of the local court’s hands. Suppose a beneficiary of the trust tries diligently but is not able to comply with a court order. If so, there is little that your legal opponent can do.
In 1961 the Isle of Man codified the Trustee Act 1961. This act addresses powers of trustees. It covers how trustees are appointed and discharged. Powers of the court are also covered. Several revisions have been made of the years. This was, for many years, considered the go-to jurisdiction for asset protection trusts. The Cook Islands legislature teamed up with some US attorneys. When they did so, they created statues that surpassed those of the Isle of Man. Since then, the Cooks have accumulated many years of case law history. Asset protection experts consider them far more protective than IoM statutes. Nevis has since copied and improved upon the original Cook Islands statutes. As a result, Nevis has also shown itself as a very favorable jurisdiction.
When properly set up, your Cook Islands Trust can very effectively protect your assets from frivolous lawsuits. In addition, it can help secure your future. In can help you make sure your assets are used only for the purpose which you envisioned. Do you work in a field that has a high risk of litigation. For malpractice? Are you in the medical or construction arenas or other vulnerable field? If so, you may simply want to be prepared for any adverse eventuality. If so, consider setting up a Cook Islands Trust to protect your assets. It will give you the most precious and priceless commodity of all – peace of mind.