Asset protection is a relatively recent area of the law, it only began to develop a little over four decades ago. Many of the asset protection solutions available today, such as offshore asset protection trusts began in the late 1980s, pioneered by famed Colorado attorney Barry Engel. Today, it is impossible to think about the history of asset protection without considering his advances in this field.
Barry Engel was born in 1954 in the city of Los Angeles, California. He grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and moved to Colorado to attend the University of Colorado. He received his law degree in 1979 from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Barry Engel returned to Colorado after graduating from law school and started his law firm, Engel & Reiman PC, in the city of Denver in 1984. His firm quickly gained a reputation as a leader in asset protection planning and integrated estate planning. Engel & Reiman PC served as counsel to a multitude of distinguished clients and continued to operate as an independent law firm until 2016 when it was acquired by a large national firm.
In 1989, Mr. Engel was one of the co-authors who drafted amendments to the Cook Islands International Trust Act of 1984 enacted by the Parliament of the Cook Islands. This law represented the first asset protection statute in the world and helped cement the Cook Islands as the pre-eminent jurisdiction for asset protection trusts. Since then, Cook Islands Asset Protection Trusts have offered the highest level of security available anywhere. The Cook Islands International Trust Act would also serve as a model for numerous other offshore jurisdictions around the world.
The U.S. Responds
After the Cook Islands and other offshore jurisdictions began recognizing asset protection trusts, certain U.S. jurisdictions started considering enacting their own laws. It wasn’t until 1997, when the State of Alaska first passed a statute which provided that the assets of an Alaska self-settled trust were protected from creditors of the settlor. Since then, a number of U.S. states have also passed laws recognizing the existence of asset protection trusts. While these domestic trusts do provide a certain degree of protection, there is still significant debate about the effectiveness of the protection provided by the laws of the different jurisdictions in the United States.
Barry Engel’s legal expertise in estate planning focused on the protection of the estate assets during the grantor’s lifetime. With the development of offshore planning, he was able to offer his clients the ability to avoid the jurisdiction of U.S. courts if a lawsuit arose. Mr. Engel was an innovator in the field of integrated estate planning, a term which means combining estate planning with asset protection tools for increased legitimacy before the courts. He became known as a leading expert in domestic and international estate planning as well as offshore protection. His influence transformed the way attorneys, legislators, and other professionals thought about estate planning and asset protection as a means to preserve and safeguard wealth.
Barry Engel also wrote the Asset Protection Planning Guide, a comprehensive book containing insights and asset protection strategies, now in its third edition, it continues being a primary source of information for attorneys and other practitioners. Through his work, writings and conferences, Mr. Engel helped bring attention and legitimacy to the world of asset protection planning. He was a frequent speaker in seminars and events as well as quoted in publications such as Economist, Business Week, American Bar Journal, National Bar Journal, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Forbes.
Barry Engel passed away in Denver in July of 2017. The legacy left behind by his work will continue to be felt in the asset protection world for decades to come.
During Mr. Engel’s lifetime, asset protection as a field of law went from marginal reputation, to mainstream adoption. In 2003 the Wall Street Journal stated that 60% of America’s millionaires had considered asset protection planning, a figure that has likely grown since then. As the onslaught of lawsuits continues its rise in the U.S., the importance of the legal innovations pioneered by Barry Engel will be ever more significant.
To learn more about asset protection planning, please contact Mile High Estate Planning today, our offices are located in downtown Denver.