Irrevocable trusts have become an integral part of estate planning, providing individuals with a reliable means of managing, protecting, and distributing assets.

These trusts and the laws that govern them have undergone significant evolution over the years, transforming the landscape of estate planning and asset management.

One notable innovation is the emergence of directed irrevocable trusts with separate trustee and investment advisor responsibilities. Unlike traditional irrevocable trusts where the trustee and investment advisor are the same entity, this new approach offers distinct advantages that appeal to modern beneficiaries and grantors alike.

In this article, we will explore the evolution of directed irrevocable trusts and delve into the benefits of this improved arrangement.

Evolution of Directed Irrevocable Trusts:

Irrevocable trusts have long been valued for their ability to protect assets, minimize estate taxes, and provide for beneficiaries’ financial security. However, the traditional setup, where the trustee and investment advisor were one and the same, presented potential conflicts of interest. The evolution of directed irrevocable trusts sought to address these concerns by separating the roles of trustee and investment advisor.

The catalyst for this transformation was the growing demand for greater transparency and accountability in trust administration. Beneficiaries and grantors sought a more robust structure that would preserve the integrity of trust assets while granting them more control and flexibility over investment decisions.

Importantly, as many state laws and directed-trust statutes have evolved and matured to a point where the division of responsibilities and liabilities is clear and provisions are flexible, clients have gained greater confidence in creating a directed trust.*

Advantages of Directed Irrevocable Trusts with Separate Responsibilities:

Mitigating Conflicts of Interest:

One of the key advantages of this arrangement is the reduction of conflicts of interest. In traditional irrevocable trusts, the trustee’s responsibility to manage the trust’s assets might conflict with their own interests as an investment advisor. In contrast, directed trusts ensure that investment decisions are made objectively and in the best interest of the beneficiaries.

Beware, many banks and advisory firms still prefer to establish irrevocable trusts the “old fashion way”, so they can continue to have full control of the assets and the fees they can charge for multiple generations.

Specialized Expertise:

By dividing the roles between a trustee and an investment advisor, beneficiaries gain access to specialized expertise in each domain. The trustee’s primary focus is on fiduciary duties, ensuring compliance with trust terms and safeguarding assets, while the investment advisor concentrates on maximizing investment returns within the parameters set by the trust.

Under the directed-trust model, both the trustee and the advisors can do what they do best, which aligns with the best interests of the current and future beneficiaries.

Flexibility and Customization:

Directed trusts offer greater flexibility in tailoring the trust’s investment strategy to align with the beneficiaries’ unique financial goals and risk tolerance. This customization can lead to more efficient wealth preservation and asset growth, ensuring that the trust’s objectives are met effectively.

As trust agreements are being made more flexible to address the changes in the lives of beneficiaries, trust laws are also headed toward more flexibility.

Family Involvement:

Directed trusts often permit greater involvement of family members in the trust’s decision-making process. Beneficiaries can participate in investment choices and governance, fostering a sense of transparency and unity within the family.

The evolution of directed irrevocable trusts with separate trustee and investment advisor responsibilities has ushered in a new era of trust management and estate planning. By addressing the conflicts of interest that arose in traditional irrevocable trusts, this improved approach offers numerous advantages, including reduced conflicts, specialized expertise, flexibility, and increased family involvement. As the legal and financial landscape continues to evolve, directed irrevocable trusts are likely to become an even more valuable tool in preserving wealth and securing the financial well-being of future generations.


*Simpson, Edward. “Directed Trusts: Powerful Estate-Planning Solutions for Clients and Advisors.