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Trust and Estate Planning: The Emergence of a Profession and Its Contribution to Socioeconomic Inequality


  • This study was supported by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, as well as by grants from the American Sociological Association (Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (#1127465), and the European Research Council (#263741-PIPES).


This article offers a new perspective on the connection between socioeconomic inequality and occupations by examining the impact of trust and estate planners on global wealth stratification. While many studies treat the professions as mirrors of inequalities in their environments, this article looks at the ways professionals participate in the creation of stratification regimes. Trust and estate planners do this by sheltering their clients' assets from taxation, thereby preserving private wealth for future generations. Using tools such as trusts, offshore banks, and shell corporations, these professionals keep a significant portion of the world’s private wealth beyond the reach of the state. Trust and estate planning thus contributes to creating and maintaining socioeconomic inequality on a global scale. The significance of the profession has grown as wealth itself has become more fungible, spurring innovation in legal, organizational, and financial strategies, and thwarting a myriad of laws and policies designed to limit enduring inequality in modern, democratic societies.