Trust Protectors: Who are They & How to Appoint One in Singapore

Last updated on October 7, 2020

man in a suit standing with a tablet

To ensure the proper administration of a trust, many trusts provide for the trustees to be supervised by a trust protector.

This article provides an overview of:

What is a Trust Protector?

A trust is a legal device where one person (the settlor) gives property to another person (the trustee) to hold and administer for the benefit of a third person (the beneficiary).

To prevent the trustee from abusing his powers, a trust protector is a third-party who has been given the powers to supervise the trustee’s actions on specified matters. Such powers of the trust protector will depend on the terms of the trust, but may usually include:

  • Removal or appointment of trustees
  • Removal or addition of beneficiaries
  • Modification of the terms of trust
  • Acting as a tiebreaker if the trustees are at an impasse
  • Veto trustee decisions

The primary role of the trust protector is to ensure that the trustee exercises his powers in accordance with the terms of the trust. While protectors are not necessary for every trust structure, they are strongly recommended in cases where there is a risk that the trustee might (intentionally or otherwise) deviate from the terms of the trust.

For instance, trust protectors are commonly used in long-term, cross-generational family trusts. This is because the future beneficiaries and trustees are likely to be increasingly removed from the settlor’s original intentions, across generations.

Who Can be a Trust Protector?

Generally, anyone who has achieved the age of legal majority (21 years old) and is of sound mind may be a trust protector. Given the nature of the role, a settlor should also appoint someone he trusts and who is likely to have the experience or ability to properly supervise the trustee.     

However, for higher-value or longer-term trusts, it is strongly recommended to appoint an independent third-party expert (such as a law or accounting firm) as the trust protector, rather than a family member or acquaintance, to ensure proper and continuous (for longer-term trusts) supervision of the trust.

How Can the Trust Protector be Appointed?

A trust protector is usually appointed through the original trust deed (or where the trust is created by will, in the will).

The deed should include a clause specifically providing for the appointment of a trust protector, as well as describing the nature of the role. At the very least, such a clause should include:

  • The procedure for appointment or removal of trust protectors
  • A list of powers to be held by the trust protector
  • A procedure for the trust protector to appoint his successors.

The proper drafting of a trust protector clause is essential to the proper functioning of the trust structure.

The powers and duties of the trust protector must be properly designed for the specific case – excessive empowering of the trust protector may itself result in a risk of abuse of powers, while providing the trust protector with too few powers may reduce his ability to properly supervise the trustee.

Therefore, it is strongly recommended that settlors consult an experienced trusts lawyer to assist in the setting up of an optimal trust structure. 

Is It Possible for a Trust Protector to be Removed?

Since a trust protector is generally a trusted person appointed to supervise the trustee’s activities, it is usually envisioned that he will continue in that role until he voluntarily retires.

However, there may be cases where it is necessary to forcibly remove the trust protector. This could be where the trust protector has been abusing his powers, or colluding with the trustee to misappropriate trust property.

As a matter of general trust law, the settlor usually becomes irrelevant once the trust is validly constituted. (In other words, he no longer has any rights over the trust property unless the trust deed specifically states otherwise.) As a result, it is usually the trust beneficiary who may want to remove the trust protector.

If the trust deed already expressly provides for a mechanism for the removal or reappointment of trust protectors, this is relatively straightforward and the beneficiary simply needs to follow that mechanism.

Problems arise in cases where the trust deed does not already provide for such a mechanism. Unfortunately, Singapore law is not very clear on the particular situations where a trust protector can be removed if the trust deed lacks an express removal mechanism.

Some major offshore jurisdictions like Jersey have permitted removal of trust protectors in cases of breakdown in relations between protector and beneficiary. However, it remains highly uncertain if a similar approach will be adopted in Singapore.

Hence, it is strongly recommended for a settlor to consult an experienced wills and trusts lawyer when drafting the trust deed in order to prevent such problems from arising later.

A trust is a flexible tool which can be used in many areas including estate planning, wealth management and intergenerational wealth transfer, with trust protectors being an excellent way to ensure proper administration of the trust.

In order to prevent difficulties from arising with your intended beneficiaries, it is strongly recommended to consult an experienced trusts lawyer at an early stage in order to design and execute an optimal trust structure for your legal needs.

Estate Planning
  1. Plan Intergenerational Wealth With a Singapore Family Office
  2. Estate Planning for Digital Assets (NFTs, Social Media, Etc.)
  3. 8 Tools You Must Know for Estate Planning in Singapore
  4. Guide to CPF Nominations & How to Make One In Singapore
  5. What Happens to Your Debts When You Die?
  6. Who Pays for the Mortgage Debts and Medical Bills After Death?
  7. Is Inheritance Tax Payable When You Die in Singapore?
  8. Is Stamp Duty Payable When Inheriting Property in Singapore?
  9. How to Donate your Assets to Charity
  10. Organ Donation in Singapore (under HOTA, or For Science)
  11. Finding Missing Persons in Singapore (or ‘Presumed Dead’)
Making a Will
  1. Making a Will in Singapore: What are the Formalities Involved? (2023)
  2. The Complete Guide to Making Your Will in Singapore
  3. Why Should You Make a Will?
  4. Checklist for Drafting a Comprehensive Will in Singapore
  5. Get An Affordable Will Made By Experienced Lawyers
  6. Choosing an Executor for Your Will in Singapore
  7. How to Prepare a Schedule of Assets for Your Will in Singapore
  8. Appointing a Guardian for Your Children in Your Will in Singapore
  9. What is a Mutual Will, Mirror Will and Joint Will?
  10. How to Give Away Overseas Assets in a Will in Singapore
  11. Can I Use My Will to Distribute Insurance Proceeds?
  12. Where Should You Store Your Will?
  13. How Can I Change My Will?
Preparing for Incapacity
  1. Mental Incapacity in Singapore: A Guide
  2. Mental Capacity Assessment for LPAs and Wills
  3. Appointment of Deputies under the Mental Capacity Act
  4. How to Appoint a Deputy for Mentally Incapacitated Persons in Singapore
  5. Advance Medical Directives in Singapore
  6. Making a Lasting Power of Attorney in Singapore
  7. Revocation of a Lasting Power of Attorney
  8. Advance Care Planning in Singapore: Why and How to Get Started
Setting Up a Trust
  1. Creating Pet Trusts in Singapore: Are They Legally Recognised?
  2. What is a Trust? Trust Law in Singapore
  3. Fiduciaries and Fiduciary Law in Singapore
  4. Setting Up a Discretionary Living Trust in Singapore
  5. Trust Protectors: Who are They & How to Appoint One in Singapore
Grant of Probate and Grant of Letters of Administration
  1. No Executor For Your Loved One's Will: What to Do
  2. What is Probate? Is It Needed If Your Loved One Passes Away?
  3. Can the Public Trustee Administer Your Loved One's Estate?
  4. How to Get a Copy of a Deceased's Will in Singapore
  5. Managing a Loved One's Estate After Their Death in Singapore
  6. Applying for a Grant of Probate in Singapore
  7. Intestacy: Applying for Letters of Administration in Singapore
  8. Obtaining a Fresh Grant of Probate and Resealing a Foreign Grant of Probate
  9. Comprehensive Guide to Probate Fees in Singapore
Distribution of Estate Assets
  1. Dispute with Executor of Will in Singapore: What to Do
  2. Bona Vacantia: Dying With No Will or Relatives in Singapore
  3. Who Gets the Joint Bank Account Monies if One Owner Dies?
  4. What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Singapore?
  5. An Executor’s Checklist to Executing a Will in Singapore
  6. What to Do If the Will Cannot be Found
  7. How to Contest a Will in Singapore (Grounds and Procedure)
  8. What Happens to the HDB Flat When One Owner Dies?
  9. How to Access the Bank Account of a Deceased Spouse
  10. What Happens to the Car When the Owner Passes Away?
  11. Simultaneous Death: How are Assets Distributed When Family Members Die at the Same Time?
  12. Can a half-brother be considered a next of kin? (when distributing the assets of the deceased)
  13. What happens to property when a deceased’s next-of-kin or named personal representative is uncontactable?
  14. What happens to property not accounted for in a will?
  15. What happens to a Singapore expatriate's assets when he passes on?
  16. What if a Child or Beneficiary Dies Before the Willmaker?
  17. How Can Your Minor Beneficiaries Receive Their Inheritance?
  18. Unfair Maintenance: What Can Singapore's Law Do for You?
Muslim Inheritance Law
  1. Using Hibah for Muslim Estate Planning in Singapore
  2. Can Muslims Make Nuzriah (or Nazar) in Singapore and How?
  3. Muslim Probate: Guide to Inheritance Certificates in Singapore
  4. Muslim Inheritance Law in Singapore