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Mark Lea: Eternal Trusts has brought trusts to a new level

03/05/2018
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An interview with Mark Lea – an Eternal Trusts advisor

Eternal Trusts stakes the claim to be the world's first blockchain platform for the pending acquisition of goods or services that aren’t yet available, including cloning or the restoration of the human neural network after cryonic preservation – whenever this becomes available both legally and ethically. To ensure that, ET creates discretionary purpose trusts for their clients, as well as legal structures protecting the clients’ assets.

Is this a viable idea in terms of the law and banking? Mark Lea is perhaps one of the few who knows the answer. Mark qualified as a solicitor and later became a Director of Rothschild’s Trust Companies and of its Guernsey Bank. In 1995 he moved to Asia where he became a Member of the Inland Revenue Board of Review of Hong Kong and served on the executive committees of Hong Kong Trustees Association and of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (Hong Kong Branch). Mark has also advised the Government of Singapore and Malaysia on the Trust Laws. At the moment Mark is a partner at Lea & White, Solicitors.

Mr. Lea, the Eternal Trusts project provides an opportunity for the people of today to purchase services that are not likely to be available in the near future, but perhaps only in decades or even hundreds of years from now. Do you really consider this to be a workable business model?

Absolutely, but it depends on a jurisdiction, because the law has to allow that trust to be indefinite. At the moment, some of the desired purposes are not possible, but there will be power for the trustees to change the purpose when its intended objective becomes legal and possible. And blockchain-based technologies will guarantee that the original contract would be kept intact. Some of the purposes are already legal: if we’re talking about certain medical purchases like stem cells, they are perfectly legal. If we’re talking about cloning human beings, that is not legal at the moment, but it may very well become so in the not too distant future. So each trust will be available as an umbrella and guardian of the client’s funds; each trust will have a company and that company will hold those funds. The funds will be invested, and those investments will be ready to meet the purposes. That’s how it works.

Your specialisation in the project’s development is creating and managing trusts. Can you tell us how trusts can provide an opportunity to make time-deferred purchases of any imaginable services within the framework of the project?

Well, if you’re aiming to hold funds for a long period of time, then you need a method by which these can be held, and a trust is that method. The method that is being adopted is aimed at enabling the trustee to execute the wishes of the client; those wishes are then stored in a blockchain where they are monitored and available when needed. The trust being a purpose trust will be able to meet those wishes when the purpose is available and possible – that’s the way it works, and the smart contracts within the blockchain ensure that the client’s will is executed with utmost accuracy.

Please share what it was that sold you on the project?

I have thought about this a lot and perhaps my considerable interest in this is driven by the changing world, particularly medical science. Others are perhaps more excited about cloning people than I am; but I think it’s very possible in the future, considering how things are moving so quickly. I am particularly interested in the storage of things like stem cells and how to make them available for future generations, and the family – for the enormous benefit of everyone.

Who usually creates trusts and who do you see as the target audience of the project?

I suspect there is a large number of people who would love to prolong their lives and might wish to explore the opportunities to achieve that, so I see quite a large market for that. As for the more immediate things, such as stem cells, which I have talked about, there is quite definitely a market because I already know many people involved in the medical science of that.

Would the research community be able to see inside these trusts and their purposes so that they could prioritize certain research and receive the funding locked inside of them?

No, the trusts themselves wouldn’t be available because they would be private documents. However, they would have knowledge of their existence without knowing who the clients are. In being aware of this demand, the research community can have the confidence to look more seriously into developing the necessary solutions. R&D companies can also use the knowledge of this demand when looking for external investments to support their work.

Please tell us about the stage of development the project is on right now.

I have got to the stage where I have been instructed to look into the question of how we will operate the trust side of matters because that’s my part of the ship. I’ve been doing this for 47 years and I have been advising the trustees on how to set up a particular trust company for this: How do they provide a type of purpose trust, which will be available for this particular purpose; how will the clients be able to provide their instructions in a sensible way; how will the trustees then be able to obtain those and discuss them properly with the client so that they will be as practical as possible in producing the trust necessary. Then I’d be discussing the fact that each trustee of each class will obviously want a company below their trust because no trustee likes to keep investment at trust level where the trustee is personally liable. They like to keep it at a company below that level. Each company will have its own bank account and funds will be held in that bank account and later become available for investment through agreements made specifically for that purpose. So, I’ve been thinking through all that and putting that together. Obviously, you need funding for that, and we are getting close to that stage.

What objectives and goals would you set for your own trust?

If I were setting up a trust for this project, I would want to ensure that the trust is indefinite, because it would potentially need to meet my ongoing requirements for many, many years. I’d also ensure that there is somebody called a protector, which each of these trusts will have, who would serve as a watchdog or a babysitter, looking out to make sure that the trustee does what the trustee ought to do. And I would ensure that there is a flexibility, for example, the part of varying the purposes so their objectives can be properly met. We obviously have to think also about what happens if in 200 years or more these purposes cannot be met. Realistically, there has to a position where this thing could be unraveled and the funds instead go to those people who are then family members. Trusts in general are very good vehicles and very good indeed for sensible purposes, but the world changes all the time and it’s very necessary to have what I would describe as backdoors and flexibility, thoroughly legal, thoroughly proper, to meet these changes.

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