LAW & GOVERNMENT
Law Reform and the Classroom: The Oregon Uniform Trust Code
uring the last 20 years, trusts have become an increasingly useful and important estate planning tool. People who want to leave money or property to family members who are minors or severely disabled use trusts to provide for ongoing financial management. Older individuals use revocable living trusts to plan for possible incapacity prior to death and to avoid probate at death. Trusts also can be useful for tax planning, Medicaid planning and many other purposes. Unfortunately, trust law has been slow to catch up with recent developments. Few Oregon statutes exist, and case law is sparse. As a result, trust settlors, beneficiaries, trustees and their lawyers cannot predict the outcome on trust law issues. Often, the only alternative available is to go to court, but even courts have to turn for guidance to secondary sources such as the Restatement of Trusts and the Bogert and Scott treatises. This problem has become increasingly acute because many trusts now have contacts with more than one state. In 2000, however, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws approved the Uniform Trust Code (UTC), the most comprehensive uniform act in the trusts and estates field in more than three decades. As of July 2005, 15 states had adopted some version of the UTC and almost every other state was engaged in studying it. The study process in Oregon lasted nearly three years. It culminated on June 29, 2005, when Governor Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 275, the Oregon Uniform Trust Code (â€œOregon Codeâ€?), which becomes effective on January 1, 2006. Many law professors serve the public and the profession by becoming involved in law reform efforts. My primary focus as a teacher, scholar and member of the legal community has been in trusts and estates. Because of my interest in this area of the law, I volunteered to organize the Oregon UTC Study Committee and to serve as its co-chair. Involvement in law reform can be an invaluable experience for any lawyer, but for a law professor it is of particular benefit in the classroom.
The study committee spent two years reviewing and analyzing the UTC and the Comments explaining its provisions. We compared the UTC not only with existing Oregon law, but also with existing law in other states and with changes already made to the UTC in states that had enacted some version of it. We heard the views of bankers and probate judges, as well as attorneys. Finally, the committee made policy decisions about the better approach on particular issues.
A professor who devotes time to law reform obviously acquires a deeper understanding of developing law.
This kind of process creates a familiarity with evolving law much greater than the knowledge 22