A spendthrift trust is a kind of trust that limits or altogether prevents a beneficiary from being able to transfer or assign his interest in the income or the principal of the trust. Spendthrift trusts are sometimes used to provide for beneficiaries who are incompetent or unable to take care of their financial affairs.
If a trust incorporates a spendthrift clause, the beneficiary is precluded from transferring his interest in either income or principal. Accordingly, the beneficiary’s creditors will not be able to reach the beneficiary’s interest in the trust.
The protection of the spendthrift trust extends solely to the property that is in the trust. Once the property has been distributed to the beneficiary that property can be reached by a creditor, except to the extent the distributed property is used to support a beneficiary. If a trust calls for a distribution to the beneficiary, but the beneficiary refuses such distribution and elects to retain property in the trust, the spendthrift protection of the trust ceases with respect to that distribution and therefore the beneficiary’s creditors can now reach trust assets.
A trust is called “discretionary” on the other hand, when the trustee has discretion (as to the time, amount and the identity of the beneficiary) in making distributions. Because the trustee is not required to make any distribution to any specific beneficiary, or may choose when and how much to distribute, a beneficiary of a discretionary trust may have such a tenuous interest in the trust so as not to constitute a property right at all. If the beneficiary indeed has no property right, there is nothing for a creditor to pursue. The statutes that follow this line of reasoning essentially provide that a trustee cannot be compelled to pay a beneficiary’s creditor if the trustee has discretion in making distributions of income and principal to begin with.
If the trustee of a self-settled trust (where the creator of the trust is also a beneficiary of the trust), has any discretion in making distributions, then the creditors of the settlor (creator) may reach the maximum amount that the trustee may distribute in his discretion to that particular settlor-beneficiary.
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