The New York Times today publishes an opinion piece complaining about what it calls "the increasing use of so-called dynasty trusts. These estate-planning instruments enable affluent people to provide their heirs with money and property largely free from taxes and immune to the claims of creditors. And rather than benefit only children and grandchildren, dynasty trusts provide for generations in perpetuity — truly creating an American aristocracy."
The Times article goes on: "An ordinary trust dissipates as money is distributed to the beneficiaries. But a dynasty trust can avoid this by discouraging outright distributions and instead encouraging trustees to buy, for the use of the beneficiaries, things like houses, artwork, airplanes and even businesses."
Even businesses! The horror of having a business controlled by a family trust! The op-ed recommends that Congress should "fix the problem."
It could start by looking at the 2010 proxy statement of the New York Times Company:
In February 1990, on the death of Adolph S. Ochs's daughter, Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger ("Mrs. Sulzberger"), control passed to her four children through the automatic termination of a trust established by Mr. Ochs. That trust held 83.7% of the Class B stock of the Company, which is not publicly traded and the holders of which have the right to elect approximately 70% of the Board of Directors. Mrs. Sulzberger's four children are: Marian S. Heiskell, Ruth S. Holmberg, Judith P. Sulzberger and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (the "grantors").
In 1997, the grantors executed an indenture (the "Trust Indenture") creating a trust (the "1997 Trust") for the benefit of each of the grantors and his or her family. The grantors transferred to the 1997 Trust all shares of Class B stock previously held by the trust established by Adolph S. Ochs, together with a number of shares of Class A stock. The 1997 Trust currently holds 738,810 shares of Class B stock and 1,400,000 shares of Class A stock. The primary objective of the 1997 Trust is to maintain the editorial independence and the integrity of The New York Times and to continue it as an independent newspaper, entirely fearless, free of ulterior influence and unselfishly devoted to the public welfare ("the primary objective of the 1997 Trust").
The current trustees of the 1997 Trust are Daniel H. Cohen, James M. Cohen, Lynn G. Dolnick, Susan W. Dryfoos, Michael Golden, Carolyn D. Greenspon, Eric M. A. Lax and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (the "Trustees"). The 1997 Trust will continue in existence until the expiration of 21 years after the death of the last remaining survivor of all descendants of Mrs. Sulzberger living on December 14, 2000.
The line in the op-ed about the trusts controlling airplanes was particularly delicious given that the Times for a while owned a plane with the FAA tail number 1896, which rather neatly matched the year that the Ochs-Sulzberger family acquired the New York Times.
What to make of this? I suppose one can credit the Times owners for allowing a diversity of opinion to flourish on their op-ed page. But it does seem a little self-contradicting to publish an op-ed piece about how business-owning long-term family trusts are a bad idea in a newspaper owned by a long-term family trust.