Robert H. Sitkoff, the John L. Gray Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has been appointed chair of the Uniform Law Commission’s drafting committee for an Act on Conflict of Laws in Trusts and Estates.
An expert in wills, trusts, estates, and fiduciary administration, Sitkoff was the youngest tenured professor to receive a chair in the history of Harvard Law School. His work has been published in leading scholarly journals such as the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, Columbia Law Review, Journal of Law and Economics, and Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. He is the surviving co-author of Wills, Trusts, and Estates (10th ed. 2017), the leading American coursebook on trusts and estates, and a co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Fiduciary Law (2019). He is also the editor of the Wills, Trusts, and Estates abstracting journal of the Social Science Research Network and an Academic Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.
In addition to his teaching and scholarship, Sitkoff has long been an active participant in trusts and estates law reform through the American Law Institute (ALI), for which he serves as a member of the Council (the board of directors), and the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), for which he serves as a Massachusetts Commissioner.
Established in 1892, the ULC provides states with models for nonpartisan legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law. Among the commission’s many contributions are the Uniform Commercial Code, the Uniform Probate Code, and the Uniform Trust Code.
Sitkoff will chair the ULC committee tasked with drafting a uniform law to address the problems of conflict of laws in trusts and estates. The committee is likely address trusts, wills, will substitutes, intestacy, estate administration, fiduciary powers and duties, powers of appointments, powers of attorneys, jurisdictional claims, and statutes of limitations.
Sitkoff pointed to the collaborative approach of the ULC, bringing together experts from across the country to formulate solutions that reflect contemporary needs. “Through this committee, we hope to bring together leading trusts and estates lawyers, bankers, and academics, and to come up with workable solutions rooted in sound public policy,” he said.
Sitkoff acknowledged that such an endeavor will be challenging, as the group attempts not only to bring uniformity to divergent existing laws, but also to bring them into the modern world.
“This will be a fascinating but difficult undertaking. Much of the existing law on conflict of trust laws, which traces mainly to the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts, is stale. It reflects an outmoded and much simpler model of practice,” he said. “Today we have increasing differentiation in state trust laws, an increasingly mobile population, and increasingly complex trust structures that divide fiduciary responsibility among multiple players. So hard conflict of trust laws problems are arising with increasing frequency.”
Spearheading a difficult law reform project is not new territory for Sitkoff, who has successfully completed many previous such initiatives. For example, Sitkoff served as chair of the drafting committee for the Uniform Directed Trust Act, now enacted in a quarter of the country, and as a member of the drafting committees for numerous other projects, including the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, the Uniform Trust Decanting Act, Uniform Powers of Appointment Act, and the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreements Act.