Aaron J. Lyttle
Two dogmas pervade the interpretation and administration of trusts. According to the first dogma, the paramount consideration in interpreting a trust is to carry out the settlor’s intent. The second dogma treats a trust like a contract, importing a range of rules from the common law of contacts, including, most importantly, the plain meaning rule. Although briefs and court opinions routinely invoke them as a matter of ritual, both doctrines have declined in importance. Beneficiaries and their lawyers, aided by innovative trust laws, have found a variety of ways to wrest control over irrevocable trusts, whether through liberal interpretation, reformation, or modification procedures. Often, there is no one with the time and incentive to represent the settlor’s intent. This may be the inevitable result of a tendency to extend trusts for increasingly long periods of time (even, in some jurisdictions, beyond the duration of the Rule Against Perpetuities).